Growing up with a sister and brother who are, respectively, one and two years younger than you, you’re bound to get into mischief. Our collective minds hatched masterful plans, such as lying under a ceiling fan and tossing grapes into the moving blades. Another bright one involved using a pencil to write the lyrics to Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” on our bedroom wall, because an eraser will make it go away. False!
One of the best ideas my sister, Trisha, and I ever had was to convince our little brother, Isaiah, that being tied to a bedpost was a great way to spend the afternoon. He agreed, even when we told him he was the one that would be tied up. In fact, Isaiah was so happy with his role that he sat by the bedpost…waiting. Trisha and I spent 10 minutes wrapping loop after loop of shoelaces and yarn around Isaiah’s body.
Then, our parents called for us – all 3 of us – to come to the kitchen. My sister and I shot a quick glance at each other. Ummm? We looked at Isaiah. He’s not going anywhere. Easily, over a hundred loops of shoe lace and yarn bound Isaiah to the post. I looked at Isaiah. Why is he still smiling? He’s stuck! We’re going to get in trouble!
On that day, I learned a new skill: improvisation. Quickly, I directed Trisha to untie him. “I’ll go see mom and dad,” I said and ran off to the kitchen.
In front of my parents, I stood there, with my arms folded behind my back and a cheerful smile on my face (which is child body language for “I’m hiding something.”) I was completely stalling, trying to give my sister time. And, it was working, as I talked with my parents for a good 2 or 3 minutes. Then…
“Where’s your brother and sister?” my mom asked.
“Umm…(we need more time!)…. I’ll go get them.” I ran back to the bedroom.
My sister had done great work, as 40 percent of the rope was off. “We need to switch,” I told Trisha. I didn’t explicitly tell her to go and stall, but she got the drift. She was going to learn improvisation with me. She ran off to the kitchen and delighted our parents with meaningless banter.
I continued untying Isaiah. (I don’t remember if he said anything. I remember him smiling. That’s all he could do. He couldn’t help. Trisha and I had bound his hands and feet separately.) Trisha and I switched a couple more times before Isaiah was finally untied. And – if my memory serves me right – we all showed up in the kitchen without my parents figuring it out what we were doing. Consequence avoided!
Moral of the Story: Children learn from each other (for better or worse).
If you know a lot about how children learn, you probably know about Lev Vygotsky, who theorized that children can learn things from older and/or more knowledgeable children around them (known as the Zone of Proximal Development).
I’ll give you an example. One time, I was watching Angelo, 3 year-old, pick up a rolling pin while playing with play dough. It’s the beginning of the school year and everything is new. Looking at the rolling pin, I imagine Angelo’s inner thought process going like this.
“Do I pound with it?” Angelo starts using it like a hammer.
“Do I sing with it?” Angelo starts using it like a microphone.
During his exploration, Angelo sees Olivia. Olivia, a 4 year-old, has masterfully used her rolling pin to spread the dough on the table. She uses her fingers to roll and roll and roll the rolling pin.
“Do I roll with it?” Angelo grabs a blob of play-dough and uses the rolling pin to roll out the dough.
“… naw! I pound with it!” Angelo starts hammering again, louder and more excitedly. “I love preschool!!!”
See? That was learning. In Angelo’s Zone was Olivia, and he grew a little just by observing her and putting that new knowledge into practice. Pretty cool, huh? There are other theories, but this is one of the cornerstones of how children learn and something teachers/parents should know.
So, what does this mean for my poor little brother? Isaiah learned not to trust his older sister and brother with ideas. And, if he didn’t learn this after being tied up, he definitely learned after the “I’ll catch you” incident involving our bunk beds. Really sorry about the permanent scar!