During his second year in our community, Dmitri, now seven and a half years old, became relaxed and natural. He participated in everything that did not require his performing before a group. When a child or children memorized and practiced a poem to recite to our class and then took it on tour around the campus, Dmitri shuddered. If invited to join someone in doing so, he recoiled in horror, but he watched with lively interest as two children went to the front garden and sat on the bench under the tree to memorize a poem. He peeked out the door into the rear garden and listened as a child delivered lines from atop the tree house to another child on the far side of the fence.
In September I was observing in a primary class and happened to be present as the teacher gave a lesson to a three-year-old girl on cleaning a chalkboard. They were both wearing aprons, carried a bucket, sponge, towel and underlay to a table, and then brought a small, and very dusty, student-size chalkboard to the table, as well. The little girl watched with rapt attention as the teacher dipped the sponge in the bucket of water, squeezed it out and then began to wipe. As she wiped from left to right across the surface of the chalkboard, it changed from chalky white to a dark, shiny green before the child’s eyes.
Like many parents, as my son’s first birthday drew close, I spent a lot of time thinking of and researching the best gifts for the first birthday. My wish list included wooden stacking blocks, a tricycle, and musical instruments. Then one day, while observing my almost one year old, I realized that the best gifts for the first year cannot be bought; they are not material, but psychological.
The best gifts for the first year are the Basic Trusts. I learned about the Basic Trusts in my AMI Assistants to infancy training. They were not called gifts or described as such, but as I have gone through the first year of parenting, I realize that they are gifts that we give our child from their day of birth – perhaps even from conception. These gifts are made even more special because they can only be given in the first year and only under the right conditions.
It is about 9:00am, half an hour after the children have come inside from the playground and began their work. I have just arrived to the school to observe the classroom of my son a few months ago. As I walk towards his classroom I see two children, probably 5 or 6 years old, with the long one thousand chain laid out along the hallway. As the name suggests, this is a chain comprised of a thousand golden beads, laid upon a fleece mat cut to the right size and length. The children are counting the beads one by one and laying number tiles by the appropriate beads as they count all the way up to one thousand. They glance up at me as I walk by, smile, then go back to their work.
Surely this father would have preferred having a conversation with me about the daughter he has in my class and her development. We had opened a discussion several times only to set it aside in favor of his more urgent and immediate task of attending to his toddler’s development. Never did this father roll his eyes, make a sarcastic comment, or express the slightest displeasure to me over being interrupted several times. His entire being seemed suffused with alertness and calm. It seemed that repeating as many times as necessary the words and gestures his daughter needed were to him the most ultimately meaningful and fulfilling experience.