Cristina Gutiérrez Lestón She is co-director of La Granja Escuela de Sta. María de Palautordera, a farm school in Barcelona dedicated to nature education and emotional education. After twenty years of experience, Cristina decided to write ‘Train it for life’, where he counts his commitment to emotional education at La Granja and offers concrete tools to put emotional education into practice, which he considers “essential if we want to train our children so that they know what to do with their lives.”
-Train or educate?
I believe that parents have two different roles with our sons and daughters. One is the father or mother, who is the one who pampers (not who consents) and loves his / her child without conditionsWhoever and however he is, your child knows that his mom and dad will love him just the same.
AND We have a second role, that of coach, and like any coach, he takes care of training his little one in all those skills that he thinks he will need to go through life without giving any more bumps than the account (empathy to understand with others, self-esteem to like and feel safe, autonomy to be able to go through life alone, teamwork to last in any job or inner strength to get up every time it falls, for example).
This second part, that of the coach, whether we like it or not, whether we know it or not, also touches us. And when you manage to do these two roles, it is when you are EDUCATING in capital letters.
-How can we train our children for life?
It’s easy, first decide what are the skills that you consider most important, put ten to start. And then you just have to train them on your child. How? Well practicing!
For example, if you want your child to have the ability of autonomy, take every opportunity to practice it; Let him or her be the one who takes their backpack to school, because every time they do it they will be training their autonomy, knowing that they are capable of carrying their things without depending on others; that he does his homework (help him, don’t do it to him) so that he knows that he can do things on his own; to button up his jacket, make a sandwich for a snack, etc.. Since we have little time, how about taking advantage of every daily opportunity to train them? And so with the rest of the skills that you consider; patience, responsibility, self-esteem, positive communication, tolerance for frustration, etc.
-How have children changed compared to previous times?
I have been working with children since 1984. More than 10,000 children pass through La Granja each year, and of all ages. I confess that I have never seen so many emotional deficiencies in kids as now, I speak of fears, fears of everything, I speak of low self-esteem, insecurity and distrust because they do not know themselves or others. I am talking about children who are dependent on their parents or friends due to their low autonomy or their almost zero tolerance for frustration.
It is hard to see the empty gaze of a 13-year-old boy with low self-esteem because he does not like himself. After an excursion to La Granja with his institute where we trained teamwork, 12-year-old Isaac told us “today I have realized that I matter to someone ”. I think this sentence sums up what is happening.
-What’s going on?
That we don’t have time, that we go so fast all day It seems that our time is up! “Run to breakfast, run because you miss the bus, run for a snack, run, do your homework, take a shower, have dinner, go to sleep because it is late.” What happened so that we no longer have time to say to our son “honey, you are important to me”? If you run you miss their looks, their smiles, their moments …
Nil, a 4 year old boy told us “My mom needs seeds of joy, I’ll give her mine”, And he did, the next day he gave it to him, I know because his mother wrote me an email. The only thing this little boy wanted was more smiles and joy at home … and less rush. The question is, can we afford it? Or are we too busy to smile?
-In the book you tell that you felt a disconnection with the children and that you recovered it thanks to the emotional education. Why do you think this was so?
Between 2002-2004 I saw that everything that had worked for me up to that moment stopped working. I’m talking about how I couldn’t get the children to listen to me like before when I explained an agenda, or that when there was a conflict, I couldn’t modulate their behaviors or attitudes.
I don’t know if you can imagine my despair, since I also had more than 20 years of experience and I thought I knew something! What we finally saw was that children’s society had changed, and with the economic boom, almost without realizing it, “being” had been changed to “having” and that caused the children to change, and consequently, everything that we used to educate and teach no longer served us, at least as before.
And looking for alternatives almost desperately, we found techniques related to emotional education that we tried with the children and here is, We saw the light! finally something was working for us. It has been 12 years of trying things, making mistakes and getting it right, but in the end we have built something that works for us.
-Does emotional education seem more necessary than before?
Perhaps before the “classical” values such as the capacity for effort, for example, were more ingrained. And the whole tribe, the street people, felt they had the power to educate. Now everyone just goes to his own way, it is lived like in small islands, even inside the home. We are animals created to live in a herd, and if that herd has been transformed, if the tribe no longer educates and also we are all very busy with our things, the children are left alone. If we add that “being” has been replaced by “having”, the emotional deficiencies in children are a logical consequence.
Emotional education helps us to know what we feel and to manage those emotions in a positive way
-Why is emotional education important?
Because it helps us to know what we feel and to manage those emotions in a positive way, for ourselves and also for those around us. It is the basis of self-knowledge, that is, the basis for knowing who we are, what we want and what we want it for. This is basic information, essential and I would say urgent to go through life. Knowing each other gives us the strength to choose the path we want to go and that, finally, everything makes sense.
-You say in your book that “children are an innovative and wonderful guide when adults open our minds, look at them and listen to them.” What main learnings can we extract from them if we listen to them? What would you highlight from what you have learned?
For me, learning to listen to them (instead of being the one speaking and lectured all day) has made me think a lot, I have learned a lot from them, and it has also given me immense pleasure to discover that they are true sages, great philosophers. You know?
They have the ability to make simple what we have complicated so much, and in the end, everything is much easier. They are consistent, and we, the older ones, no longer. Once a girl, Alexandra, aged 14 asked me “Why do you older people believe that the world is really yours, and not ours, that of children?” I couldn’t answer him, that day I realized that they are right, and I keep asking myself, why the hell haven’t we believed them? His world is much better than ours, with more magic, more generosity, more dreams… and more coherence!
-Each page of the book ‘Words of child‘ edited by Platform is a pearl, a true gem that makes you think. Does it have something to do with Alexandra’s question?
Yes, a lot to see, in fact that young woman was the “culprit” of this graphic book full of photographs and design! At La Granja every day we ask the children “what do you take from the colonies?” and we collected the 8,000 responses from children each year. So we thought, how can we make known that other world that is as true as ours? The answer was to do it using the literal words of the children themselves, what is better than that to see and know their world?
-How did the La Granja project start?
It started 31 years ago. It is a family business, our parents created the first farm school dedicated entirely to allowing schoolchildren to discover and have direct contact with nature and farm animals. Since 1992, my sister Susana and I have directed it, and during the last decade we have been creating, as I was saying, a methodology, the “La Granja method” based on emotional education, high performance and skills training, that is present in all our activities and workshops and that works for us with today’s children.
-How do children get there? What activities do you do?
During the school year, schools from all over Catalonia and Andorra visit us to carry out the traditional colonies and school excursions, we have a wide range of proposals, activities and workshops where our methodology is transversal, everything we do has an intention. Many schools come for us to train the teamwork or positive communication of their students, to do farm programs, adventure in English or discovery.
In summer we carry out the traditional convivialities, the emotional colonies and the summer camp are very successful. We also carry out emotional activities in the family, high-performance sports camps or training for teachers and parents.
-Do you consider contact with nature one of the main needs of children?
Yes, of course, we humans come from the forest, we need it, it gives us health, fewer negative emotions and greater capacity for observation and creativity. The forest heals, we see it every day, children relax their attitude, speak with more respect, and it is scientifically proven that it strengthens the immune system, increases vigor and reduces levels of anxiety, depression, anguish and fatigue. In addition to improving the cognitive system, when inhaling the so-called fitoncidas, Substances produced by plants and trees relaxes and activates the immune system. The forest increases the number of NK cells that are lymphocytes that provide defenses against tumors and viruses, in fact the researchers suggest that visiting the forests has preventive effects on the appearance and progression of cancer.
So I think that contact with nature has to be much more than a consideration., it is important and urgent that nature is part of the lives of our little ones, especially now, it seems that this contact has also been granted as the responsibility of the schools. 40% of the children who come to La Granja are only in direct contact with nature once a year, when they go out with their school. I encourage all parents to take advantage of the forest and nature on weekends, because also… it’s free!
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.