Do you need to manipulate a child’s tender emotions? I say yes, especially when the potential gains are far-reaching, in both literacy and life.
What has me thinking about this? The odd intersection of events that brings things to consciousness. This time, it involved a child’s play kitchen and an old shirt–and lots of emotions.
Just this past week, we decided it was time for my daughter’s old play kitchen to go. It has sat–unused–for the last couple of years in the basement. So we loaded it up one evening, and the next day we drove to unload this relic from her preschool days. As we drove, my daughter began tearing up and said, “I’m sad I won’t have my kitchen any more.”
I hadn’t realized this was such a treasured relic from her preschool days.
We did end up unloading it. Before we did, though, we took pictures of her standing in front of it. We took pictures of her opening the various doors on it. We took pictures of her pretend cooking. Lots of pictures, all at her suggestion. To be honest, it tried my patience.
I thought, “Come on already. It’s just a play kitchen, and one you haven’t even played with in years.”
But then the old shirt incident occurred.
It was a man’s button down shirt. But it was mine. I bought it for myself when I was pregnant with my son some thirteen years ago. It was great then to accommodate an expanding belly comfortably. And it remained my “go to” shirt for hanging around the house and feeling comfortable, even through my pregnancy with my daughter and beyond.
By chance, I pulled this shirt out of the closet the other day–the day after the unloading of the play kitchen. I noticed that my now teenaged shirt was showing some signs of wear and tear. So I balled it up, walked over to the trash bin, and stopped.
The shirt is once again hanging in my closet, a treasured relic of my early motherhood days.
It was at the moment that I hung it back up in the closet that I was able to empathize with my daughter and her experience with the play kitchen. I truly understood what she was feeling. It is hard to let something so meaningful go. And we need to honor our feelings and let ourselves process the loss, no matter what it is or how inconsequential it may seem to someone else. It helps us get closure so our emotional selves can continue to grow. I was so glad she had suggested to take those pictures.
So what does this all have to do with literacy? And life? I believe we can–and should–manipulate these situations for gain.
Let me clarify what I mean by manipulate, because that word surely gets a bad rap. It comes from the Latin “manus” which means “hand” and has the association of “shaping.” Think “manual” labor. Its negative connotation aside, manipulate connotes the “skillful handling of objects and persons,” which of course, would include the emotional realm.
So what I mean is to use times of tender emotions to draw literacy into children’s lives. To let them see the relevance of literacy in our daily lives. To let them see the utility of literacy. To let them see the necessity of literacy. It’s not just for school and learning, but for learning about ourselves and allowing us to connect with each other, both in the present and the future.
A perfect example of this? A classmate of my daughter came to our door one afternoon to deliver a hand-written note. (The two of them had had a little falling out in school that day.) What did the note say? It was an apology, and a play date invitation, all in one. It was healing and connection, on one little square of pink paper. It was beautiful.
In fact, my daughter still has it tucked away in a drawer.
So, is it OK to manipulate our children’s sentiments in this way? To see what they are upset about and pull in reading and writing? I say yes. Essential even. Because it is actually helping them, and in several ways:
- It presents an opportunity for them to reflect on their experiences.
- It provides them with an avenue for processing their thoughts and feelings.
- It allows them to experience the real value of printed communication: connection with our fellow humans.
Literacy is connection, with ourselves and with others.
So am I going to manipulate my daughter’s tender emotions about giving up her treasured toy from her past? You bet. We are going to look at the pictures we took and write about all the special feelings she has for that play kitchen. It will let her bring her feelings to her consciousness so she can process them. And it will leave her with a wonderful written record (just like I have here!) of how she felt about a special part of her life. Who knows? She might need it as a reminder some day in the future, especially if she doesn’t have an old shirt hanging in her closet.
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