February 5, 2020

Dear Flint Hill School Families,

I was recently thinking about the two-way relationship between children and adults when it comes to teaching and learning. As it turns out, our children, grandchildren and students can often teach us just as much as we teach them. I’d like to re-share a story with you about a weekend I spent with some of my grandchildren that I told in one of my letters, a few years ago, that has stayed with me to this day.

A few years ago during a long weekend, my wife Emily traveled to New York to babysit for our twin grandchildren, Reed and Ella, who were three at the time. During the three days they were with us, I learned a lot, and I was particularly surprised to see them in action. We were quickly reminded that there is no down time for little ones. From the moment they woke up to the minute they went to sleep at night, they were in constant motion. We began that Saturday taking a long stroll to Central Park, walking through the zoo, and visiting playgrounds. My grandchildren loved to climb, and it was also good to see how well they got along with each other. They were constantly talking to each other or to us. It was as if a switch had been flipped and they were constantly in action.

For the walk to the park, we took their stroller. At one point, we hit a busy intersection where there was a large puddle of water. I made the mistake of saying, “I hate it when the water piles up like this!” Reed immediately turned and — in the kindest possible way — wagged his little index finger at me and said with a very stern face, “Opa, we do not ever say the word hate. It is a bad word.” I stood corrected and, fortunately, my apology was accepted with a smile and an invitation for us to keep going. The list of moments like that could fill pages!

At one point over that weekend, we went to Barnes & Noble to look for floor puzzles. After picking a couple of puzzles we thought they might enjoy, we also decided to spoil them a bit by allowing each child to pick a toy. Ella got a Strawberry Shortcake doll and playset, and Reed got a doctor’s travel bag filled with items. Later that afternoon, after playing with the new toys, Ella asked if she could play the doctor now. Reed wasn’t ready to give up his new toy, but Ella was persistent. She then said, “We need to share, Reed! You can play with my toy.” But Reed wasn’t budging, and while I was on the floor trying to play with each of them, I really enjoyed watching this dynamic and trying to figure out how the debate was going to end. At one moment, Ella looked me right in the eye and, after asking Reed again to share his toys, in a very calm voice she turned to him and said, “Reed, sharing is caring! You know you should share!” She then looked back at me. It was a nice move, I thought. Strategic and well-played. Eventually her brother gave in, saying, “Yes, in a few minutes, I will let you be the doctor.”

At night when the kids went down, they went down hard to sleep, and Oma and Opa were not far behind. But as I drove back from that busy weekend to prepare for a new week at school, several key points resonated with me.

Children absorb knowledge like sponges. They are full of questions and are constantly asking and remembering the lessons that we teach, whether or not they are intended. It’s amazing how much they really notice.

Innocence still exists in this crazy world. Isn’t that wonderful? Cherish it when you see it and marvel at its purity. Enjoy your children’s sense of joy, excitement and the magic of learning something for the first time, and allow it to remind you of what it’s like to view the world with fresh eyes.

It is never too late to learn. I learned a lot from my grandchildren that weekend. I learned about city life. I learned about living in an apartment. I learned about the strategy behind completing big floor puzzles. I learned that being a “horse” with a grandchild on your back never gets old. I learned how you can emotionally melt when out of the blue, they take your hand or curl up under your arm on the sofa and just say “I love you.” I also learned that “sharing is caring” and never to use the word “hate” again.

Enjoy your children at all times, no matter how old they are. Remember, childhood is fleeting. It may be a cliché to say, “enjoy the journey,” but it’s true. Time passes far too quickly. Four years have passed since that weekend in New York, and even then, I couldn’t believe how much time had passed since the twins had been born.

As parents, grandparents, educators, coaches and so on, we can often feel like we are the ones driving all of the learning moments for the children in our lives. But there is a lot we can learn from them too.

Best wishes to you! As we move forward through this final half of the school year, I look forward to all that we can continue to learn together.

Sincerely,

John M. Thomas
Headmaster