Their own devices

It’s tough to use this phrase without getting derailed by the obvious pun or irony available given the various portable game consoles, MP3 players, and smartphones that populate many a modern child’s existence.  But I still often find it asking for my attention when I see young people at work on whatever is truly their own; when they’re left to what are actually their own devices –the mechanisms that operate in their minds and internal worlds, made visible in what they create and share with their speaking, drawing, singing, building, imagining, and other art and craft.

Yesterday I saw a series of drawings penned by a nine year-old I know.  One of what I would call this child’s own devices is a knack for telling terrifically dramatic and often ironic stories on paper, with spare line drawings and few words.  At first my eye was tempted to wince at the size and shape of her lettering.  And it would be easy to mistake what she’d drawn and written for an unsophisticated product for someone her age.  It would be easy to worry that she’s behind.

But the plots of these stories, the behavior of the characters, and the choice of words in the dialogue betray their author and illustrator’s wisdom and knowledge.  More than once as I was looking over the body of work I heard myself saying “I’ve never seen that done before.”

Kids’ own devices are often of this nature – a surprising and subtle confluence of the distinct neurological wiring they arrive with and the things they’ve seen and heard along the way that shape and inspire them.  When we’re distracted by how well they are or aren’t forming their letters or whether or not they can remember, quickly, the difference between 17 and nine, we can miss their best stuff.

Which is a shame, because it’s much easier to practice your letters once you find reason to do so, or devise a strategy for managing calculation, than it is to reclaim an authentically original and unique way of responding to the world after it’s been pushed aside or snuffed out all together.


3 Responses

  1. Thank you for all you write. It is a constant positive reminder to me in our homeschooling, parenting, and just being with our son. 🙂

  2. I couldn’t agree more. My eight year old son does not favor writing, isn’t real keen on reading to himself (though LOVES us to read TO him), and would never say he wants to write a book. However, he DOES love to tell stories. The other day, he asked to borrow my iPhone so he could record himself. He proceeded to dictate a three-chapter story that not only kept me wondering what would happen next, but left me smiling at how well he understands the mechanics of good storytelling!

  3. Oh, we are SO in the same boat! It is so easy for me to say, “Ugh, that handwriting” or “That’s spelled wrong,” but when I just… STOP, I’m humbled at the brilliance that I so often overlook!

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