“When we allow space for children’s inner worlds, they learn to express themselves from the wholeness of who they are” – Melissa A. Butler. Reimagining Project.

A few weeks ago, I asked on social media, “How do you envision education in the future? After COVID-19, I feel schools should support children’s emotional well-being and provide children with outdoor sanctuaries for peaceful thoughts and calm reflection”.  Today, it is a huge privilege to welcome World Kids Melissa A. Butler, founder of Reimagining Project, and to speak with her about “rethinking and reimagining”  education and childhood.

Melissa A. Butler is a writer, former Kindergarten teacher, speaker, and consultant who helps children, parents, and teachers “slow down to notice more.” She believes in a joyful and playful childhood and the benefits of living a simple life with deeper connections. 

I am fascinated by her Reimagining Project because I also believe in the transformative power of slowing down to notice the small things and the beauty around us, and its impact on learning. I am sure you will love her Reimagining Project, too, so please grab a coffee and join me in this conversation with Melissa. What she says matters and her approach to education are perhaps now more necessary than ever.  

World Kids: How important is playing for child development?  I love that you defend the importance of both structured and unstructured play, as well as boredom. How can we know we are balancing them all well?

Melissa A. Butler:   Play is important for all of our development. Humans sometimes forget this. But when we take time to watch birds or squirrels or our pets, we remember how important play is for all living beings! For children, play is their language and method for processing the world around them and creating ways to contribute to it. Play is joy, connection, invention, mess, imagination, being, breath.

It’s important to take time to notice children in the midst of their play– how do they play? what do they talk about? when do they get stuck or leave the play? You can find out a lot of what children need in terms of structured and unstructured time simply from such noticing. Children need a bit of both, but some children may need more of one than the other, so the balance you find will be different for each child. 

And sometimes, it’s tricky. For example, if your child asks for structure, this doesn’t necessarily mean this is what they need. When a child says “I’m bored” or constantly asks for ideas about what to do next, it is important to look underneath the words for the underlying feelings. Your child may need connection and a snuggle. Your child may need to talk (or dance or draw) about their feelings. Or, this may indeed signal that your child needs more unstructured time to be without any expectation or guidance about what to do. When a child doesn’t know what to do inside unstructured time, they usually need more practice not knowing what to do.

Nowadays, parents are overwhelmed. We have so much information about parenting and we feel we are never “perfect enough”. Is slowing down the first step to improve our family relationships? How can we slow down amidst this terrible pandemic? 

I think slowing down helps us remember to breathe, and breath reminds us to be present. The present moment is full of joy and love and possibility. There is no comparison or judgment in the present moment. You are always enough. 

I think it is extremely important for people to limit the news they watch and the social media they consume. If you want to find some new information about a topic, set an intention for calm, grounded, presence and go ahead and go online and do some searching and reading. But stay grounded in the notion that you are enough and you already have all you need. Look for blogs, podcasts, and news sites that don’t take you away from this grounding when you read and listen. If the site is based on fear and comparison, you will feel it– and log out! It is possible to know facts of the status quo, learn science, feel all the feelings we might have (including loss and worry), read ideas from others, and still feel okay about who we are right now. Learning and receiving advice from others shouldn’t make us feel bad about ourselves. Trust yourself. And in terms of not being “perfect enough” for your children, if you notice that thought cross your mind, smile at it and let it go. You are always enough, just as you are for your child.

Many parents are stressed about the uncertainties for the school year 2020-21. Depending on the country, many kids will not be able to attend school. We are worried about our children’s health, but also their emotional and social development.  How can we support our children’s learning at home? Is it possible to find joy in virtual learning? 

I think it is possible to find joy in learning anywhere. I think the key to this is twofold: 1) be truthful and 2) notice beauty. 

First, be truthful. We each need to know the parameters of our situation. Where will school be “held”? What is “required”? What is “optional”? How much time in the day do you have to help your child with their “school”? How will you “work” too? We need to know the facts of the situation. We need to be truthful about this to ourselves and to our children. Note: we don’t need to spend time longing over what we wish things were like instead. Once we know the parameters for what “school” will look like, then we are ready for the next step.

Notice beauty. I don’t mean this in a romantic way. I mean it quite practically. What we notice and appreciate grows. So notice and appreciate the things/feelings you want to grow. Focus your attention on the small moments and small surprises that bring joy for you and your child. Being together. The bird on the fence. An ant crawling on your book. A surprising slant of light across your table. Your child’s giggle. Wearing comfortable clothes. Having time for a pot of soup to simmer on the stove. A mess of cardboard in the corner from your child’s fort-building.

Take that mess of cardboard (or mess of anything). You can see the mess and focus on that. Or you can see the joy of your child’s learning and focus there. The joy of learning is the beauty. Same with virtual learning. You can focus on what your child is missing and how you don’t like the online platform. Or… you can focus on your child’s excitement to see someone on the screen. There is what is there, and there is what you notice in it. Shift your noticing.

This doesn’t mean to force positivity or paint things with a pretty picture. It means to be clear and honest about what is there, including all feelings that arise. Be present, notice beauty, and you will soon find yourself surrounded by lovely surprises.

I love that you define this crisis as a time of new challenges but also new opportunities. What can we learn from 2020? 

The world is changing, energy is shifting. There is old energy of pain, suffering, death, fear, outrage, hatred. There is also connection, calm, nature, love, wisdom, peace. The old energy often seems louder, but it is only louder if we give it our attention. I think 2020 is teaching us to slow down and notice small things. Notice our gardens, the creatures, the earth, the air. Notice our bodies, the food we eat, the exercise we get, our sleep. Notice our loved ones, family, friends, neighbors, pets, alive or in spirit. Notice our hands and what they can do. Notice our minds and what we can dream. Notice deep inside ourselves and listen to who we are. What a beautiful lesson for children!

Related articles: 

“Picture Book List from the heart”– Melissa A. Butler’s favorite children’s books.  

Parenting in the age of attention snatchers. “The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention”.

The Happyself Kids’ Daily Journal. Promoting happiness, developing healthy habits for life, and nurturing enquiring minds.

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  • Reply María 09/07/2020 at 09:36

    Wonderful project!

    • Reply WorldKids 02/10/2021 at 13:52

      Thank you very much for your comment! It is truly a wonderful project!

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