• Robert Ahdoot

Pa, from the "Little House" books, is THE MAN.

Updated: Jan 1, 2020

Our family is head-over-heels for Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books.

On one particular bedtime reading of On the Banks of Plum Creek, I was blown away by the parenting/teaching genius of her father, Charles Ingalls, whom she refers to as "Pa".

Here is the brief exchange between Pa and Laura that speaks to me. Can you spot what he's doing most brilliantly? I count five mentoring gems, all of which I unpack below. (For an indirect hint, I'm also doing some of them with my eldest daughter, in the picture above.)

In this scene, Laura just learned that Pa had to trade their horses away for cattle:

"Oh, Pa," she said, and there was a tremble in her voice. "I don't think I like cattle– much."

Pa took her hand and comforted it in his big one. He said, "We must do the best we can, Laura, and not grumble. What must be done is best done cheerfully. And some day we will have horses again."

"When, Pa?" she asked him. 

"When we raise our first crop of wheat."

Pa's wisdom shines through in this exchange. Here are four values that immediately jump out:

Resilience, in the sense that setbacks inevitably occur in the present, but we can bounce back from them in the future.

Acknowledgement, in the sense that he didn't gloss over her feelings. He expressed care. I especially like the image of his large hand affectionately holding her small one.

Positivity, in the sense that sooner or later, kids are confronted with "double-whammy" life tasks: those that are both undesirable AND necessary. When those responsibilities present themselves, doing them from a cheerful place is the way. I especially enjoyed how one reader from this mailing list posting pointed out how he chose the words, "is best" over "should." Pa is the consummate modeler and teacher.

And hope, in the sense that we can choose to focus on what is bringing us down now. Or we can choose to set our focus on achieving goals that'll bring light and joy to our circumstances later.

I love all these. Now I want to comment on what I believe to be the most powerful approach that Pa uses. It's a value that I've instinctively done with my kids, and one that I didn't know to explore in more depth as a younger teacher. What I'm talking about is inclusivity.

I looked up the definitions of both "inclusivity" and "inclusiveness," and they're pretty much the same. It is, "the practice or policy of including people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized." The definition goes on to include different groups such as racial/minority groups, and the disabled.

Then I had a revelation in reading this definition. Modern societies have been slowly shifting towards including historically marginalized groups. Yet at the same time, these same future-forward societies (such as ours) have been shifting away from including our very own kids. We're just not engaging them in ways we used to.

I saw this firsthand recently in Singapore. It's a very modern city, and after the sometimes frenetic pace of Bali for several weeks, we were all in the mood for a nice sushi meal. We found a really cool place – informal, with the semi-raucous din of conversations in multiple languages swirling around the room. Here we are:

Robert Ahdoot of Yay Math teaches from a place of love and connection.
Notice anything, energetically?

We sat next to what appeared to be a very well-to-do family. The entire time, both their daughters were glued to devices. Also you can see dad's body energy faces away from them. It's a scene I've grown accustomed to. But I don't accept its new normalcy.

My observations are not meant in judgment. No one can know the in's and out's of people's family or classroom dynamics. At the same time, I can't deny my conviction that universal human truths exist. One of those values is that during meals, we engage each other. We include each other.

Which brings us back to Pa and Laura. He includes her in the family's goals. Her goal is to have horses, and his goal is to raise crops. By committing to her that they'll