Sometimes in pre-school and in life, we choose themes to study such as, self, autumn, fairytales, the human body or Jazz. Other times in pre-school, and life, themes seem choose us.
Perhaps some of the themes that have chosen you and your 2-5 year old are express-subway trains, or green vegetables, or sandy beaches, or 80’s rock music, or Mexican food, or folding laundry, or avoiding parking tickets, or silly dancing.
This summer, the theme that has been choosing me has been rhythm. I remember when it first chose me. I was at the Orchard School in New Hampshire for Sankofa drum and dance camp and the drum teacher Saleem, was beating the drum as he compared it to the maternal heart beat we all heard even before we were born.
The pom pom pom then expanded and I began listening to the rhythms around me, and observing the daily rhythms of the children and grown-ups at the Orchard School, Maple Street, Brooklyn and beyond.
The theme of rhythm brought be back to when I first began teaching at the Maple Street school. I was introduced to a circle of children singing, and two wise women Barbara and Jackie.
As we chanted greetings to the morning and each other, often a child would wander off, cuddle up, hum, tickle a friend, or stay absolutely still. I would look over for guidance at my wise women, and they would say or nod in unison he or she has their own special rhythm.
I would watch and listen to the rhythms at Maple Street, the boy (who is now sixteen and six feet tall) lining up small jungle animals carefully, the little one who was two who knocked down blocks and fell asleep in the corner, and the older girl who was giving advanced lectures on paleontology. Each had their own rhythm.
I noticed rhythm then, but did not realize how much rhythm matters. This summer I began to notice how when we follow a child’s rhythm and support them, like a drum beat, they grow, create, stretch, and thrive. Sometimes we are speeding up or slowing down, meeting them where they are at, and adding energy, or relaxing breath.
Sometimes our rhythms don’t match our children or our surroundings at all. We arrive at restaurant and look forward to a cool drink, an appetizer, and a grown up conversation as our kids play a horrific game of hide and seek almost knocking over the table and the waiter. Our evening turns into dissonant flop of spilt food, halted conversations, whining tantrums, and a better plan for a picnic. If we really missed the beat, we might say I am never taking these children out to a restaurant again ever or until they are grown! We might threaten to sign them up for manners school, which at that point we need more than they need.
Often even after a night of chaos, our rhythms do find a way back together, and steady. This happens we breathe in, spend some time alone, take a bath, or read a story. We are slowing down, and finding a similar tempo.
Sometimes we can’t even find the right rhythm in our own bodies, and we can’t speed up or slow down, and find that drum beat dance in our lives. Children, and especially children with special or sensory needs have a hard time finding a keeping a comfortable steady beat to the world. When this happens I look to intuitive parenting and teaching as well as special needs teachers, occupational therapists and children’s yoga and mindfulness teachers for tools such as a long train ride, soothing music, a bath, a run in the playground, and more therapeutic tools like massage, compressions, swinging, brushing and spinning and more…
This year, it is my hope to observe more children and family rhythms than ever before, to follow their beats, and to honor them. I watched my mentor Eleanor and her teachers doing that this summer, often slowing down to greet a child with autism, or to watch bees creating a new hive, or to give a mama bird space, or speeding up on bikes and trampolines (a trampoline is kind of a giant drum for a human).
Also, in studying rhythm, I hope to slow down my beat a little through meditation and mindfulness, and begin practicing with my own internal drum. So far, I have rediscovered horseback riding and a long sunset boat ride.
At the Orchard School, ironically one of the drummers (Saleem’s first born) name is Rhythm. He is 14 and we would go to the pond each day after camp. The other children would quickly dive into the pond and swim to the dock. He would say, “I don’t know why I can’t do it I am just cold. We would laugh, and I would say, “You’ll get in, we all have our own rhythm,” and of course he did.
After thought —
Finally, my hope is to be able to share theories and practice on the themes that choose us. Please share the rhythm of your family or teaching practice, and together we can join in a drum circle of life.