What My Granddaughter Wasn’t Obliged to Do


Today my nine-year-old granddaughter helped me take down our fairy tree. We had talked about redecorating it with birdseed ornaments and then setting it out on the lawn for the birds to enjoy. I asked her  if she still wanted to do that, and her enthusiasm was unstoppable. So we got to work removing our homemade decorations, as well as the lovely scarves that had framed it. Then we took the little tree out to the patio. Sitting at the patio table, we spooned thistle seed onto various sizes of cheesecloth to create some new ornaments, tying each of these with a colorful ribbon. I’m always amazed at how much energy and enthusiasm children can have for a project that might seem tedious if it were required. (This is the Tom Sawyer phenomenon. As Mark Twain said, “Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.”)

I saw my granddaughter practicing skills of dexterity (cutting, tying) and of measuring with her palm (“Grandma, do you think this is about a thousand seeds?”), as well as exhibiting the emotional qualities of compassion and caring for the natural world, wanting to contribute something meaningful and participate in nature’s recycling of materials. She set the tree on the lawn and carefully attached the ornaments. As you can see, the birds are greatly enjoying the gift of our fairy tree.

To read an inspiring blog on the importance of such play to develop intrinsic motivation, see the guest blog with Randal McChesney.

© 2013 by Gail E. Dennison. All rights reserved.

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