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Vignette 18/52. Deep Breathing and Time.

Take a deep breath. Slowly in and slowly out.
Do it ten times.
How do you feel?

“There is a saying in the Neverland that,every time you breathe, a grown-up dies.”
― J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

This is what our decade of staying home together felt like. I recently published a chapter on Slow Education. In 10000 words, I am essentially saying, take a deep breath and repeat.

When I was eight years old, I remember being stressed out about learning how to tell time. I remember how rushed I felt. I remember the workbooks and not getting it. I remember praying that the teacher doesn’t call on me. I also remember seeing the big “x’s” beside the problems I got wrong because I switched the hour hand and minute hand.

My son asked me how to tell time.

He said, “You know the type of time you tell on a “old fashioned” clock?” (How old did I feel in that moment?)

He is 11 years old. Some would say that it is a little “late” to be teaching this to him and I respond by saying, “Late for what?” He did not need to know it at any point before this moment when he was curious about telling time on an “old-fashioned” clock.

The different between his experience and my experience is that he is asking with curiosity and zero anxiety – partly because this is initiated by his own interest and partly because I was so relaxed and open about it.

He asked after dinner and honestly I was tired, but I told him to grab the chalkboard. I drew a clock face and the numbers. I asked him if he knew “why” the numbers and “why” the circle. He didn’t know so we talked about the original clock – the sun (the original timekeeper), the efficiency of this shape in terms of a portable watch, and the hours in a day and how ancient civilizations figured out how to create these standards.

We slowly talked about how long we could measure the time to take to boil water without a watch. He learned from his guide at our learning center about the sun, water timekeeping in China, and I told him that we could use a candle too. We could mark the start of the candle and see how far it burnt down and marked that time. He could count too but would have to keep a steady rhythm.

After drawing the numbers on the clock face, I drew the two hands and the ticks between numbers. I explained the minutes. He remarked how that made sense because there are 60 minutes in an hour. He asked questions without fear like, “Ok, why is this 8:45 if the minute hand is pointing to the 9.”

I said that humans like shortcuts. The 9 is for the hour. The ticks are for the minutes. It would be a very cluttered clock if we put the minutes on there too although some watches have that. I explained that if there are 60 minutes, we can count by 5’s or count each tick, starting with 1, but that would take long.

A light bulb went off and after just these 10 minutes of talking, he said, “Test me. Put the hands on a time and I will tell you what time it is.”

At first he mixed up the hands – hour and minute – just like me. I reassured him that you would normally use a “live” clock to tell time and the minute hand would be moving every minute along each tick. I also told him he could figure his own special way to remember. He thought for a moment, and took some deep breaths while staring in the distance. I waited patiently. He finally said, “Hmmmm…well the word ‘hour’ is shorter than ’minute’ and the short hand is the hour.”

He wanted to draw the hands on the clock while I said different times. Finally, he was satisfied. He learned it. He kissed me on the cheek and said thanks and went to bed.

Chris watched the whole thing and said, “That was the fastest and most relaxed lesson on time I have ever seen.”

I replied, “Yes, but he will remember that feeling – that love of learning like taking the deepest of soothing breaths – forever.”

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