Eyes Wide Open: What Children See & Recognize

My five-year-old daughter and I sat in blinding sunlight yesterday and read a picture book that deeply impacted me. The Man With the Violin follows the story of little Dylan, who notices many things that his mother doesn't. One day he hears a musician in the subway playing beautiful violin music, and though he wants to stop and listen, his mama rushes him on. There's more to the story, since it's based on this American cultural experiment:

in 2007, a Washington Post journalist convinced world class violinist Joshua Bell to dress as a nondescript street musician, playing violin to the best of his ability for three-quarters of an hour in a subway station filled with morning commuters. Journalist Gene Weingarten wanted to know how many of those commuters would stop to listen. More than one thousand people passed by, but only seven paused for more than a minute. Below is a time-lapsed film of the event, and here's the follow-up article, entitled Pearls Before Breakfast, that won Gene Weingarten a Pulitzer Prize.

When I looked into the event that inspired the children's book, I discovered that every child who passed Joshua Bell in the subway tried to stop and listen, but without fail every parent hurried each child on.

Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away.
— Gene Weingarten
L'Enfant et les musiciens by  Gustave Deghilage

L'Enfant et les musiciens by Gustave Deghilage

As a parent of two little children, I want to keep this story and its truths in my heart: children recognize wonder when they see it. Their senses are alert to life in a way that we adults have taught ourselves to ignore in pursuit of the urgent. There are three changes I hope to make in response to this story:

1. Plan less. I want to leave more unscheduled space in our days, allowing plenty of time for exploring relationships with people and nature, spending less time commuting between events and activities.

Regarde Mamie! by  Julie Kertesz

Regarde Mamie! by Julie Kertesz

2. Plan ahead. Whenever possible, I want to avoid rushing my children. Preparing well in advance for the events we choose to attend smooths transitions and enables us to appreciate the moments we have without unnecessary pressure.

3. Listen to my children and validate their observations.  The way children view the world is so fascinating and insightful! I am not only their teacher; I am also learning from them. Yet recently I've fallen into a pattern of speaking mostly directives to my children, using tired, clipped phrases to tell them what to do and what not to do. I hope to change my speech habits back to thoughtful responses to their comments, allowing our conversations to follow on their observations and joy instead of arising from my parental fatigue.

Photo by  mll

Photo by mll

The Man with the Violin contains a postscript written by Joshua Bell in which he comments, "Over a thousand people heard me play my violin in the L'Enfant Plaza Metro Station . . . but very few actually listened."

Do you remember hearing about Joshua Bell's incognito subway concert? When was the last time you spontaneously altered your trajectory to enjoy an unexpected observation? What do your children love to stop and observe?