Last night, I was priviledged to watch an amazing display of Native American dance at my husband’s annual company party. It might seem an unlikely pairing — Native dance at an office party for mostly Caucasian engineers? — but one of their employees is Native American. His grandfather worked for the Wild Bill West Show, and it was there that his grandfather learned whip tricks, Native dance and showmanship. He passed those skills down to his sons…who taught their sons…who are now teaching their children.
He stood up, in full regalia, and introduced his family — brother, 2 sons and a daughter. He explained some of the history of the dances, and said that his youngest son, age 3, might be joining him as he danced. The child has never been “taught” dance; there are no dance classes for Native children, he said. Instead, they learn by coming out and mimicking their elders.
Exactly!, I thought. I’ve been reading a book, The Minds of Boys: Saving Our Sons from Falling Behind in School and Life. And in this book, author Michael Gurian talks about how boys used to be educated:
“Until about a hundred years ago, in all parts of the world, our sons’ primary teachers were not lone individuals in schoolrooms but families, tribes and natural environments…Right up into the nineteenth century, most boys still learned what they needed to know mainly from their mothers, fathers, mentors and hands-on work. They imitated their elders, they practiced, they learned by doing.”
This little boy, three years old, stepped out beside his father in full confidence, but with the eyes of a child. While his father was intense, clearly into the dance, the child danced beside, equally on the moves, but with eyes darting around the room. Never once did I see the father whisper instructions to his child or interfere with the child’s moves; he simply danced, and the child followed along. At three years old, he was learning by doing, at his father’s side.
Such a simple approach, yet one so many of us have forgotten. As the line between adult and child has become ever wider, and as life becomes increasingly specialized, too many parents assume they aren’t capable of teaching their children what they need to know. But I encourage you to invite your children into your life anyway. Let them watch and help you as you bake, garden, write, play sports or do whatever it is you do. Invite them to be a part of your daily life, and you may be surprised what they learn.
Now, just for fun — a Native American hoop dance. One of the dancers performed a similar dance last night, and it was amazing!