A significant change occurs in a child’s development between the ages of six and nine. He comes out of his individual cell and becomes aware of the environment. This, in turn enables him to reflect upon himself and his environment. This age period is, therefore, the ideal time to start teaching children higher concepts since they are now able to grasp notions such as “environment,” “the meaning of life,” the foundations of higher math, and so on.
It is also the ideal time to introduce the arts, such as learning to sing, to appear in front of an audience, and to express one’s thoughts orally and in writing. Not only will this develop a child’s social skills, as was described in the section on ages 3-6, but will also instill the understanding that working in a group improves one’s own creativity.
Starting with this age group, it is important to take the children on outings and field trips appropriate for their age in order to familiarize them with “life in the real world.”
If all of the above activities are introduced correctly, a child will become familiar with his own thoughts and desires, as well as those of his environment. He will thereby gain a deep understanding of what motivates him and others throughout life, and will be able to empathize with other people in various situations.
“Court Houses” for the Young
Every sensation and thought we have is constructed of two opposite forces or sensations – hot and cold, attraction and repulsion, hatred and love, and so forth. This combination of opposites forms our entire lives. If we could not sense darkness, we would not be able to recognize light, and if we had not tasted something bitter, we would not know what is sweet. The same rule applies to our attitude to the environment: Our ability to judge and criticize others is indispensable for our ability to feel empathy toward them.
The inclination to judge oneself and others begins emerging in a child at the age of six. Therefore, from this age onward it is important to guide him toward developing the right connection with the environment, as well as to help him understand the things he observes now and in the future.
Many psychologists now attest to the fact that people who commit terror acts and other physical abuse lacked precisely this kind of guidance as children. These individuals act out of a desire to feel acknowledged by others, to have others see them as important and special, and to find a place where they can fit into society. This is because no one helped them understand the right way to connect with their environment when they were young. No one showed them how to receive attention, recognition, and importance the right way, and this void drives them to achieve these goals any way they can.1
We can help our children avoid these negative expressions in society by teaching them the right way to connect to others through exercises they perform as part of their education. Children have to role play being in various circumstances which they will encounter in life, including situations of jealousy, control, power play, lies, and cheating. After they role play being in these situations, they should discuss what happened, how they reacted, and why. They should explore questions such as: What is the reason for this negative occurrence? Is it a result of human nature? If so, is it possible to “rise above” it?
The children should hold an actual “court” in class to deal with cases of abuse and theft, for example, with one child playing the role of the offender and another child – the role of the victim. Another two children can play the victim’s mother and father, while the rest of the children in class can be the judges, the jury, the prosecutor and the defense, and so on. The children have to take this scenario seriously, as if they really are in that role. For example, the offender should bring proof that he is innocent, meaning that he had no other options but to act the way he did.
After the first “hearing” of the court is done, it is advisable to allow the children to take a break for a while and then to change roles. If a child played the role of the victim before, now he should play the role of the offender’s mother or father.
That way the children will be able to experience and observe themselves in different roles. They will begin asking themselves questions such as, “How could I have thought that he was wrong yesterday, while today I’m completely convinced that he is right?” As a result, this will become much more than a game because the children will gradually begin asking about – and understanding – the larger meaning of life. They will begin to empathize with others, to actually “feel their neighbor.” A child will begin to understand that others can also be right even if they have a different opinion than himself. He will understand that tomorrow he might also find himself in a different situation, and thus he will develop the feeling of empathy, the ability to identify with other people and other concepts of reality.
Another possibility of expanding this exercise is to stream the discussion via the internet, with an entire virtual community of children sharing their opinion on the topic being discussed.
By means of these exercises the children will develop the ability to communicate with different people, even if these people disagree with them or hate them, because they will understand that they too could find themselves in the other situation at some point in the future.
Most importantly, this style of education will adapt the children to living in a global, interconnected world. For example, it will give them an intuitive understanding of the elusive fact of quantum physics: That each one of us includes all the possible situations, as well as the fact that every person has a place in this world and therefore we must show patience and tolerance to all.
If we can teach our children to understand that we are all undergoing constant changes (just like our own opinion could suddenly change during a game or a discussion or as a result of such things) and that we shouldn’t be afraid of change, they will be able to continue developing throughout their entire lives. This will mark the beginning of a child’s true maturation into a “human being” because a “human being” is someone who is able to overcome his animalistic desires and drives, to see, judge, and analyze himself from the broader perspective of the collective.
How does the educator fit into this role playing game? His responsibility is to make sure that the discussion is interesting and realistic, that everyone understands what is being discussed, and that it does not digress to unnecessary topics.
The duration of the role playing game may be anywhere from just a few minutes and up to two hours, and should conclude with the children sharing their impressions of what took place.
The key principles for the exercise are:
1. The situation should be realistic and relevant to the children’s lives, and
2. The topic for discussion should be suitable to the children’s age and level of understanding.
The most important concept to be learned is that other people are entitled to their own opinions. We are all human and as such, we all have weaknesses, problems, and things about us that we don’t like. Games such as this will enable us to correct the things that need correction and to expose the good things in others and emphasize them.
1 See P. Fonagy, M Target, M. Steele, H. Steele, “The Development of Violence and Crime as It Relates to Security of Attachment,” inside: Joy. D. Osofsky, “Children in a Violent Society,” New York, Guilford, 1997. In this article the assumption is that criminals did not experience a meaningful relationship in their childhood and therefore, they resort to violence to compensate for their lack of connection, in a desperate effort to fit in with society.