Thursday, November 15, 2007

Shared Understanding

Adults guide children by seeking to create a shared understanding (the million-dollar word is intersubjectivity). In Awakening Children's Minds, Laura Berk points out that "each participant in the dialogue strives to grasp the subjective perspective of the other, an effort that results in a 'meeting of the minds,' in which the partners' thoughts make contact, connect, and coincide" (page 42). With very young children, adults bear greater responsibility for striving for a mutually understood of thinking about a situation. As children mature, they are more able to figure out the perspective of others.

People with autism take longer to figure out that people have their own minds and thoughts. They also have a hard time learning to see the perspective of neurologically typical people because their brains perceive the world so differently. Teaching this ability, theory of mind, can help smooth out and prevent misunderstandings.

The other day, I caught a great example of our effort to reach a shared understanding about glue during the crayon shavings activity. Usually, I let Pamela spread glue with a toothpick because she does not like the feeling of glue on her fingers. I did not realize that we were out of toothpicks. In this clip, she tells me several times that she cannot glue without the toothpicks. I knew this was going to be a problem for her, so I offered to spread the glue with my finger. I gave her a chance to think about trying, and she opted out of this sticky conundrum. I used this as an opportunity to let her know that I do not mind the glue. I described how the glue felt and how glue bothers some people but not others. My camera stopped filming, but you can get a glimpse of how the dialog began. (Google video is acting up again, so I hope I don't have to upload this again.)

Incidentally, Charlotte Mason recommended dialogues to reach a shared understanding in her book, Formation of Character. At the end of the chapter called The Philosopher at Home, father and son take a walk and discuss what the boy could do to avoid being cross. In Inconstant Kitty, the aunt suggests how the mother can encourage her daughter with a short attention span to stick with her dolly tea party longer by letting her know what adults do, "What! The doll's tea-party over! That's not the way grown-up ladies have tea; they sit and talk for a long time. See if you can make your tea-party last twenty minutes by my watch! (page 32)" The adults in Under a Cloud and Dorothy Elmore's Achievement have gentle dialogues to help them figure out how to handle sullen moods. Given time, I could give many more examples.

Ultimately, Charlotte believed that the mind is where all good habits began, "'Sow an act,' we are told, 'reap a habit.' 'Sow a habit, reap a character.' But we must go a step further back, we must sow the idea or notion which makes the act worth while" (page 102). Sowing ideas with a very light hand can only be accomplished through mind to mind communication between children and adults, even if they are the long-dead author of a living book. She covered in great detail one important function of parents, inspiring children:
That he should take direction and inspiration from all the casual life about him, should make our poor words and ways the starting-point from which, and in the direction of which, he develops––this is a thought which makes the best of us hold our breath. There is no way of escape for parents; they must needs be as 'inspirers' to their children, because about them hangs, as its atmosphere about a planet the thought-environment of the child, from which he derives those enduring ideas which express themselves as a life-long 'appetency' towards things sordid or things lovely, things earthly or divine (page 37).


JamBerry said...

Hey Tammy, the video's not working on this end. :(

JamBerry said...

okay, it's working now!
It was neat watching how she watched YOU. Ya know, there's a lot to be said for pushing someone to grow beyond their 'envelope,' but there's a lot to be said for respecting someone's personal limits too. I think this was a great example of both setting limits and respecting limits, and of adapting to the situation and working together to still accomplish the shared goal. Good for Pamela for understanding her limits (not liking the experience of glue on her fingers), and good for you for respecting her needs, and good for both of yall for still working together to make it all happen!!

poohder said...

I just tried it at 10:44 am and it worked for me. I tried it earlier this morning and it didn't work.
Who knows?? Great BTW!

Anonymous said...

workin' for me..i have to get caught up on your latest entries. i want to watch the crayon one next. I agree w/ jamberry on personal space... it is good to try new things and 'somtimes' things have to be done that wig us out..but for example I can't STAND wet paper. Paper towel is OK but ick on wet paper. I don't even like the little stickers on the fruit. I know I sound like a nut case LOL! I'd better post this one anonymous :) I have ds try new stuff but rarely insist.

walking said...

Google is being hit and miss right now . . . :-(

Jamberry, this is what I love about homeschooling: Pamela is respected as a person and is not coerced or threatened into things that make her uncomfortable. I am working on her inner thought life, and the day she is ready to try something icky, like touching glue, it will be her own choice. Until then, I will buy stock in toothpicks!

To the anonymous nut case . . . did I say that? :-) Actually, Bonnie Hanschu told us at a three-day conference on sensory integration that she suspected about ten person of neurologically typical people have sensory issues. Maybe, you are one of them . . .

Anonymous said...

""'Sow an act,' we are told, 'reap a habit.' Lovely - great words to live by.
Best wishes

walking said...


And even more exciting to me, sow an idea that makes the act worthwhile.