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  • Skribentens bildSuzanne Axelsson

The Unhurried Child

For over a decade now I have been advocating for slowing down.

And it is so validating to read more and more about others also advocating for this...

In Alison Clark's book "Slow Knowledge and the Unhurried Child" she writes about one of the inspirations to consider time... that of a traveller child that did not want to be hurried (page 13).

It made me think of my own parenting.

I have three children who do not like to be hurried. So we haven't.

When my youngest turned two and he entered preschool (and not the small group of 3 children and a teacher in our own home) it was like someone flicked a switch. This calm, curious, happy child suddenly became frustrated and perceived as a problem - although the teachers would never call him a problem, their constant reminders of what my child had done or not done as a negative rather than a positive was confirmation enough that this is how he was perceived. That I would eventually get confirmation from other parents that their children told them that the teacher did not like my son - 4-6 year olds, indicates just how powerful an impact our view of children is.

Our home became one that was not dictated by clock time (although I kept an eye on time to ensure they ate and slept - because being autistic - the children and myself, hunger is not a sensation any of us experience - therefore I had to keep an eye on the time to ensure we had good eating rhythms). What I mean by not dictated by the clock is all those unnecessary transitions and must-do's.

Even from when my first-borns (twins) were born all our routines were about enabling us to be unhurried. When they were toddlers going to the supermarket was not a chore but an excursion and we walked there slowly looking and admiring all the small wonders (plants growing in pavement cracks, bugs, windows etc - puddles were reserved for the way back so they didn't have to experience the shop all wet). We experienced the supermarket like other would enjoy a museum or art gallery. And I would have cool-bags with me if I bought fridge/freezer stuff so that we didn't have to hurry home.

School was not kind to my youngest. Too much time doing stuff at a pace that did not align with his own temporal rhythm... and worse yet, seldom in tune with his motivation. After all, if motivated he had quite the speed in learning, exploring, doing.

This going slow business has never been about being sedate but more about not over-filling our days so that we felt stressed about managing to do everything.

Once my son had his autism/ADHD diagnosis things became a more deliberate, conscious unhurriedness. Which I think at times was frustrating for my husband as he liked to fill his days with lots of things and needed to learn that after a busy week of must-do's at school all three children needed to recombobulate and experience their weekend as a period of time that unfolded, rather than one that was filled with happenings to be done. It's not that we never arranged things, accepted invitations and do stuff... it's just that we paced ourselves so that it all felt manangeable. Because I knew if I filled their weekend then it would have consumed energy they needed for the school week.

Sometimes I felt like the only parents that longed for school breaks so that I did not have to hurry them in the mornings to get them to school.

In fact I still remember how our mornings used to be connected to the clock just so we could get out of the door -

ring - time to get up and eat breakfast

ring - time to get dressed

ring - time to brush teeth

ring - time to put on outdoor clothes.

There was no space for play... because if that happened he would go into unhurried mode and there would be frustration experienced by everyone in the family.

It wasn't a fast pace, but just enough to slowly do what we needed. Occasionally I would find him at the window sill playing with his lego, with his pyjamas half way down his legs (how one can be distracted half way through taking of pj's is a mystery to me, but made sense to him) - a gentle reminder of the mission and most times things would get back on track, as long as I caught it early enough.

It wasn't unhurried for me. But I tried to make it as unhurried for the children.

This has been my approach as an educator too.

How can I make the children's experience feel unhurried. That they have a sense of control over their time with me, and it is not me herding them from one activity to another and the routines...

Taking the close up photos in my #slowdown #lookclosely #listendeeply approach has helped me know when I am unhurried and when I am stressing. It becomes a sense of being aware of your own state of mind. Which i think in hurried societies we can easily distract ourselves from this awareness.

If I know how it feels in my body, then when I am with children I can more quickly realise when I am letting the clock dictate instead of guide, and that I am expecting an adult tempo from the children. At the end of this post I have included some links to other posts I have written about time and slowing down over the years. A couple of them are from my website "Arboreal Methodologies" and is a place where I have been collecting reflections, photos, art etc connected to my relationship with the land... in this case the forest close to our tiny cottage on my in-laws land. For the last three years (I started before the pandemic, but became a very convenient exploration to do in pandemic times) I have been inspired by Indigenous "walking the land" and what I could learn about pedagogy by listening to the forest. It became named "arboreal methodologies" as I collaborated with professor Jayne Osgood to get to the roots of slowing down, diversity, entanglements and more connecting to early childhood. Sometimes I think I found my way to walking slowly in the forest through the fact that I have been forced to be unhurried in my parenting... that this slowness has benefits, and I have witnessed just how damaging the constant demand of levelling up at specific times can be for some children. I like the fact that the Te Reo Mâori word for autism is Takiwâtanga - meaning in his/her/their own space and time...

I wish that this could be applied to all children.

In Sámi culture (Europe's only recognised Indigenous people living in Sápmi which stretches across the modern borders of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia) there is a saying 'Gal dat oahppá go stuorrola which roughly translates as "I'm sure they will learn when they are older". This idea that time unfolds the learning and understanding rather than us forcing the learning and understanding into time.

After all we can decide ourselves when we want to learn something, but we have no control over when we will understand it - time has control over that. Sometimes is happens quickly, other times we need days, weeks, months, years (sometimes never) to fully understand. If teaching is based on a fixed schedule which does not provide adequate time for all children to understand before moving on to the next topic (that usually requires that one has understood what has come before to be able to learn) - it means some children are being hurried, and that many of those hurried children start to gain more and more understanding holes in their fabric of learning.

The Original Learning Approach sees play as the warp threads that learning and teaching are woven into. Play helps things slow down so that understanding can occur. Sometimes to rework ideas, or test them out in new ways, or sometimes just by refuelling on joy and well-being so that there is the energy to comprehend the lessons that are being shared by the teacher. If the teacher is play-responsive then the lessons can be more in tune with the way the brain is rewarding the body with endorphins... it's why Malaguzzi famously said "nothing without joy".

Being unhurried is about reclaiming the joy of learning.

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Ana Kircher-Rosales
Ana Kircher-Rosales
10 mar 2023

I enjoyed this reading so much, it fills my heart, I am an educator and also a mother of a child with ADHD/autism… your post makes a lot of sense as I also advocate for the slowing down, listen and observe!!!

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Suzanne Axelsson
Suzanne Axelsson
13 mar 2023
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I think it is so vital in this hurried world of ours to make the effort to not just follow the pace of others in fear of being excluded - but to demand that the world allows for many different paces and what all these different modes of experiencing the world can then offer

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