The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh Innocence and Youth
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Innocence and Youth
Eeyore wasn't listening. He was taking the balloon out, and putting it back in again, as happy as could be...(Winnie-the-Pooh.6.152)
You know how young children can do the same thing over and over again? How the simplest activity can be really engaging? Like playing peek-a-boo, catch, or clicking a clicky pen over and over again. Turns out, this is developmentally appropriate. There's no better way to learn about something really well than repeating it to exhaustion.
"Yes!" said Roo. "Look at me sw—"and down he went over the next waterfall into another pool. (Winnie-the-Pooh.8.115)
Roo is the youngest character in the book, though Tigger may be about the same in terms of juvenile behavior. Milne characterizes him as having unbridled enthusiasm. Since Roo is too young to understand the possible negative repercussions of falling into a rushing stream (i.e. drowning), all he sees is the fun. Who cares if it's not real swimming?
"And that letter is a 'P,' and so is that, and so is that, and 'P' means 'Pooh,' so it's a very important Message to me, and I can't read it." (Winnie-the-Pooh.9.26)
Milne has a unique understanding of stages of development. We've talked about taking other peoples' perspectives, but here's a great view of educational stages too. Sure, one way of looking at this is that Pooh is mistaken, and he can't read. But there's another way. Pooh is in the emergent stage of literacy development. He recognizes at least one letter, "P" and he connects it to the word that he knows with that letter, "Pooh." This is an early step among many on the way to being able to read for real.
On the morning of the fifth day he saw the water all round him, and knew that for the first time in his life he was on a real island. Which was very exciting. (Winnie-the-Pooh.9.31)
Christopher Robin also sees the excitement of potentially harmful situations. But, unlike Roo, he's also a little worried, too, as he's concerned about Pooh and his other friends.
Christopher Robin had spent the morning indoors going to Africa and back, and he had just got off the boat and was wondering what it was like outside, when who should come knocking at the door but Eeyore. (House.1.40)
Milne presents this little bit of play in a dry, realistic tone, as if Christopher Robin actually went to Africa. With this, he respects the way that imaginative play can feel very real to young children. In fact, the whole work of fiction is based on this premise. So the next time your kids pretend to be a tiger, a pirate, or a chef, just go along for the ride. The more they fully embody that role, the more they'll learn from it.
"Well, look in my cupboard, Tigger dear, and see what you'd like." Because she knew at once that, however big Tigger seemed to be, he wanted as much kindness as Roo. (House.2.129)
While Milne allows us to see how capable children can be, he doesn't let us forget that adults should be kind and nurturing.
"I shouldn't be surprised if it hailed a good deal tomorrow," Eeyore was saying. […]
"There's Pooh!" said Christopher Robin, who didn't much mind <em>what </em>it did tomorrow, as long as he was out in it. (House.4.113-114)
While Eeyore is burdened with cynicism regarding all the things that could go wrong, Christopher Robin—our resident youth representative—doesn't see "wrong" in those things. Children make the best of any situation, Milne tells us.
"That's funny," said Pooh. "I dropped it on the other side," said Pooh, "and it came out on this side! I wonder if it would do it again?" (House.6.8)
As knowledgeable readers, we take this kind of physical property for granted—that a river will carry something with its flow. But for Pooh, who has never seen this before, this is a veritable Nobel Prize-winning discovery. And what's more, he wants to try the experiment again. In fact, this kind of process is exactly how young children learn about the world around them through play. The famous developmental psychologist Jean Piaget called children "young scientists." This is why.
So they went to the Six Pine Trees, and threw fir-cones at each other until they had forgotten what they came for, and they left the basket under the trees and went back to dinner. (House.7.95)
In the carefree existence of youth, it's pretty easy to forget about responsibilities, too.
"How do you do Nothing?" asked Pooh, after he had wondered for a long time.
"Well, it's when people call out at you just as you're going off to do it, What are you going to do, Christopher Robin, and you say, Oh, nothing, and then you go and do it." (House.10.32-33)
"Nothing" is Milne's view of early childhood in a nutshell.
So they went off together. But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing. (House.10.78)
For Milne, youth is almost a spiritual stage of life. Even as children grow older, their young selves can exist on some metaphysical plane in dreams or memory or nostalgia. We wonder if this is comforting for him, a burgeoning empty-nester as his son outgrows the fantasy world of the Forest.
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