Cultivating Well-Adjusted Humans

I wrote this letter of appreciation a couple of years ago when Lanning's Learning Tree Child Care Center closed in Wichita, Kansas. I am very lucky to have worked there while I was in college. It was a job that fit me better than any other I've had since then and I learned so many important lessons.

Thank You Lanning's Learning Tree
by Daron Larson 

I had personal motives for wanting to work at Lanning’s Learning Tree. I’ve been aware of a strong parenting impulse since I was a child myself, but I knew that I had many things to learn before taking on this significant responsibility. I remember taking a developmental psychology class at Wichita State and discovering that the complex task was full of paradoxes and counter-intuitive insights.

Children need consistent limits in order to feel safe in the world. They need to be stimulated to develop their capacity to appreciate the world around them and to see things from the perspective of others. When freedom is so great that boundaries can’t be identified, a child can grow to feel like he’s floating in a universe that is completely random and unpredictable. When boundaries are too strict and confining, a child can become too afraid to venture outside her own limited point of view.

College is a great place to learn about theories, but where could I possibly go to find out how to put these insights to work and to develop the practical skills required for nurturing a young human being into a thriving adult? Lanning’s Learning Tree.

I learned that reading and singing to young children are like soil and water and sunshine to flowers. It literally passes on to them the gift of language which we so easily take for granted.

I learned that our expectations of children need to be based on developmental stages which are constantly changing yet generally predictable. Demanding apologies and sharing before these social skills begin to appear just frustrates all parties involved and serve no real benefit.

I learned that when a child is ready to play on a particular playground structure, she will seek it out and climb on it herself and then be able to make her way back down without assistance.

I learned that it is the responsibility of the caregiver to set up an environment where children can succeed. We find ways to gently redirect attention and increase the opportunities for responding with praise rather than raining down a steady stream of correction. It’s so much more satisfying to do your strategic work up front instead of having to constantly cook up consequences for avoidable problems.

I learned that self-esteem can’t be forced on children because we love them, but that it flows naturally in response to their individual willingness to engage in tasks that challenge them.

I learned that children tend to repeat behaviors that evoke intense reactions in adults. If the reaction is strongly negative, they will test out the behavior again to see if they get the same response. If the reaction is positive, the will test out the behavior again to see if they get the same response. Some kids go through their entire childhood getting in trouble just so they can hear their name repeated over and over again with emotion, even if the emotion is unpleasant.

I learned that children influence caregivers as much as caregivers influence children.

And I learned to review the guidelines and strategies on a regular basis to remember and clarify and reinforce what I assumed I already understood.

I cherish my memories of showing up to work while it was still dark, helping serve breakfast, walking the school-age children to elementary school, attending my college classes, waiting for the end of school bell to ring, walking the kids back to Lanning’s, and then hanging out reading and playing games until their parents came to pick them up.

I observed directly the developmental stages in constant bloom all around the various buildings and playgrounds. It felt like a laboratory for cultivating well-adjusted humans where the teachers, like scientists, were consistently challenged to actively introduce creative independent variables with the greatest likelihood of helping children thrive and blossom. All of this helped shape me into the parent that I became.

No possession or job title or award or amount of money can even approach the value of this to me. No one ever manages to do this perfectly, but I have been the best parent I could possibly have been because of my time at Lanning’s Learning Tree.

For this I am deeply, deeply grateful.

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