The above book is a personal account of raising a young child in France by an American journalist. The book is entertaining and informative, and I especially enjoyed reading it because my son was born in France and spent two years in the creche municipale (public daycare) and two years at the ecole maternelle or preschool.
The author recounts how amazed she is to observe how French infants sleep through the night nearly immediately, and dismayed that her own does not. Through discussions with French parents, medical doctors, nurses at the PMI (free public clinic for children from birth to age 6), the author discovers that all French parents practice what she calls “the pause”. This means that, relative to sleep cycles, an infant (or anyone, for that matter) will stir and become agitated after each two hour cycle. The French parents will listen to the child and observe whether or not the baby is truly awake, or just stirring. They don’t immediately rush in and wake the baby, disturbing its sleep. In this manner, the baby learns to soothe itself and transition from one sleep cycle to the next – alone. Much of French education is based on the child having a certain framework or structure called a “cadre”, which literally means frame, and inside of that framework, there is a lot of freedom. Children’s daily lives are not as tightly regimented as American children’s. They have activities, but they also have free time. Children learn to amuse themselves and to delay gratification. Parents often require children to wait, if only for a short time, to teach them patience and self-discipline. All of these qualities lead to maturity, and independence (autonomie). American parents seem to fear that their children become frustrated, and rush immediately to quench every desire before it has barely emerged from the child’s awareness. American children (depending on what family and socio-economic background in which they are raised) often cannot tolerate frustration and frequently complain of boredom. It is no wonder, as they are not trained from infancy to wait and to console and entertain themselves. It is interesting to consider these principles of education connected to creativity and critical thinking, which to me, as a parent, as extremely important qualities of character and intelligence.
American parents, based on our culture, wish their children to be strong individuals and fear breaking their spirit (by frustrating their desires), but often the outcome is the opposite of this intention. Success in America is based on the qualities of being dominant and powerful – power being defined in economic and social terms. Children’s lives are scheduled so tightly – their calendars are like those of a busy CEO. Parents often feel guilty if they do not give their children every opportunity to experience the widest range of activities for fear that they don’t measure up to their neighbor’s children. Often the parents compete with one another, and the children’s lives are their ammunition. Success in France is different. I enjoyed the strategies of early childhood education in France – there is a lot of wisdom and balance in the system and philosophies employed by French parents. Children have their place in the family, and they are important – but definitely not more important than the adults. When children enter elementary school (l’ecole primaire), the philosophy changes. Perhaps the age of reason dictates that children can now control their impulses, and school becomes very dry. Teachers speak and children listen. There is no more art, dance, and creative expression. Children expect to be criticized by their teachers, to be broken “casse”. The harshness is supposed to make them stronger in their resolve. I am not so sure about these strategies, which I encountered when going to art school in France, at the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts, in Paris.
As a parent and as a person, I have observed that spending time alone allows a person to dream, to observe life around oneself, and to delve inside inner worlds – also to make connections between the inner and outer. All of these elements are necessary for the development of creativity and personal intelligence. I have always emphasized for my own son the importance of thinking for himself. As an only child, he has no trouble staying alone and entertaining himself – drawing, playing music, creating art and posts on Facebook. Being a single parent, I suppose I have also relied on his ability to sometimes be alone so that I too can have time to myself. As he gets older, this becomes easier. When he was little, I think he felt insecure because he had only me to count on and keep him safe. So perhaps we need a balance between solitude and community in order to be truly creative and connected. I think I have experienced an overload of solitude, and this blog is one of my efforts to connect to others and share thoughts and ideas. I look forward to hearing and reading comments from my readers.
I work in a public library, and books are among my dearest friends. Because there are so many amazing books in the world, I know that there are also amazing people (who write those books) out in the world as well! Sharing thoughts is also a creative process, and I feel that I (as well as the children of the world) need to share, contrast, mirror outwards and reflect inwards in order to develop creativity.
Thanks for reading!