Joy of the Month Excerpt (November)
"The body is an instrument for feeling. We choose much of what our bodies will feel. I want to choose joy."
Adult: It wasn't that he was extraordinarily healthy; it was just that he enjoyed things about his physical body that most take for granted. He was a farmer, middle-aged, living in the flat, middle plain of America. He loved the hard, sweat-producing work in his field. "The hot sun limbers up my body," he would say, "makes me feel more loose and easy." He liked winter work as well. "My lungs like to feel that cold mornin' air a-fillin' 'em, and if I work hard enough, in ten minutes, I'm warm as summer."
On Wednesday evenings, after a long day's work, he played softball. He was the oldest member of the team. He said that part of the enjoyment was the competition and the company, but most of it was the physical joy. The catch, the throw, the hit -- each, for him, was a momentary splurge of physical pleasure, a bump of joy.
The same physical joy showed in a different way when he took out his old fiddle. His tone was sometimes wrong -- his position always was -- but the rhythm in the twitch of shoulder and tap of toe plus his wide smile reflected uninhibited joy.
This man loved his senses and his senses loved the earth. He'd close his eyes so he could listen better to whippoorwills. He'd stop just to breathe the lilac breeze in early May. He'd let the soft, black soil sift through his fist just to feel its texture. And when his wife baked apple pie, he would hold the first bite in his mouth for half a minute "to be sure I taste it all."
He found amazement and wonder in the natural processes of his body -- the rejuvenation of sleep, the fuel of food. Much of this world's progress and possessions had passed by this man, but his ability to feel the joy of his own body brightened his eye and enlivened his face so that the world looked back with envy.
Child: Here is a conversation I had with my three year old:
"Why do you have a body?"
"To skip with!"
"To skip with?"
"I see. What's the best part of your body?"
"'Cause I see the flowers."
"But the nose is too, 'cause I smell them."
"Do you hear them?"
"No, but if you close your eyes you do hear teeny little things."
"Wind and trees."
"How do they sound?"
"Swish, swish, but quieter than that."
"Any other parts of the body you like?"
"The tongue to talk -- you hold only it and you can't talk. Try it -- say my name."
"Unghun -- uwam."
"Shawni, does your body make you happy?"
"My body is the happy!"
The spontaneous delight and built-in curiosity of little children make them receptive to the joy of the body. They are perfect pupils, but they still need teachers. The sensing equipment is built in -- they receive the sensation -- but they need to interpret it to feel its joy. A child's senses are more acute than ours, but the joy of the body lies in understanding what we sense, and that is where the teaching comes in.
What joy is in the body! The joy of work and of hard purposeful effort, the joy of singing, the joy of sport and activity, the joy of tenderness and physical touch, the joy of controlling physical things. Children have a tendency toward them all. Softly feel a baby's head, rough-house with a two year old, watch a three year old squeeze shapes from a square block of clay, and you'll see the opening melodies of the body's joy.
Inhibition and fear take away the body's joy. Children learn inhibitions and fear from us. How can we avoid it? First, we must help them to try physical things without intimidation, embarrassment, or fear. We must help them begin to sense the simple enjoyment of the functioning of their bodies. Then, beyond that, we must help them find and concentrate on the particular physical things that they do especially well, the things in which they are gifted, be they sports, music, crafts, dance, or whatever their own particular gifts suggest.
Parenting Methods and Ideas
A. Teaching Appreciation for the Body
- Focus your child's attention on one sense: Have him close his eyes (or use a blindfold). Ask, "What can you hear? Listen closer -- is there anything else we can hear?" (Do this outside, in city and in country.)
Close your eyes and ears. What can we smell?
Close your eyes and ears. Taste something and identify it.
Close your eyes and ears. Feel something with your feet and identify it.
- Pretend you don't have certain body parts, then try to do things. For example, pretend you have no fingers -- just fists -- and try to put on your shoes. With no eyes (blindfolded), try to put a piece in a puzzle. With no thumbs (tape them to fingers), try to pick up a penny. With only one hand (other one in pocket), try to catch a big ball. Without bending knees try to walk up stairs.
- "What is it?"game. Blindfold your child. Then let him hear and smell and touch and taste various things and try to identify them. Use things with interesting textures (sandpaper, cotton, polished stones); different sounds (bottled water, marbles in a box, a bell); distinct odors (perfume, popcorn, pickles); distinct tastes (sugar, salt, peanut butter, root beer).
- Identify sounds. Tape-record a variety of sounds; play them and have children identify what they are.
- Teach appreciation of the human body over other bodies. Pretend you are an elephant, bird, squirrel -- what can you do? What can't you do? (Walk on two legs, pick up things with fingers, talk, walk while carrying something." Now pretend you are a plant -- what can't you do? (Almost everything.)
B. Use and Development of Bodily Skills
- Dancing and marching. Use a variety of music, ranging from light, fairylike ballet pieces to heavy soldier marches. The stronger the rhythm the better. Encourage freedom of movement and lack of inhibition: "Try to kick the ceiling." "Look like a big tree swaying in the breeze." Most children can feel the mood of music; encourage them to let it out. Sometimes a partially darkened room helps children to feel more free. Use a particularly free, uninhibited child as an example.
- Learning to catch a ball. Few abilities give a child a greater sense of physical confidence and satisfaction. A large foam or sponge ball is easy to catch, a good first step. Also, teach children to shoot a basket; both boys and girls need the feeling of physical prowess and ability. Again, use a sponge ball with a low basket. Teach them that missing is just fine; take it all lightly.
- Provide small, manipulative toys -- things that fit together and that develop hand-to-eye coordination. Puzzles -- very simple ones at first -- are good. Lavish praise for each right move: "Isn't that great? You are so good at it!" (But be careful not to tell children they are good if they are not; if they can't do it yet, they can't feel the joy yet. Say, "I'll bet you can do it when you are four. Now let's find something else.")
- Provide balancing toys, such as swing sets and tumbling mats. Encourage -- but don't push -- exploration, swinging, hanging, climbing, jumping off.
- Teach simple songs and offer the children praise for singing. Tape-record their music and let them have the joy of listening to it again.
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