- The Washington Times - Monday, May 5, 2008

Body language is not usually mentioned in most academic curricula, but it is a powerful tool for learning. In many cultures, there are clear methods of conveying knowledge that use bodily disciplines.

Students of martial arts are taught to hold a strong and balanced stance, still and alert, while the teacher is speaking. A drill sergeant uses a similar method. The raw recruits are trained to stand at attention, to maintain a strong but still posture, especially when new information is being given.

This is not merely a way of creating strength or uniformity; the posture also helps students maintain respect for the teacher and a readiness to learn.

When a child is learning ballet, there are certain physical attributes of foot position, spinal alignment, head position, arm elevation and even eye position that must be learned. The students learn the correct combinations, and then repeat them, building muscular strength, but also adding those patterns to the brain’s storehouse. Soon, the repetition builds familiarity and habit.

In yoga, the practitioner uses bodily postures and breathing to create a peaceful and balanced state of mind. The inner calm results from specific physical disciplines.

In Asian cultures, a young person bows to the teacher, indicating respect, but also putting the body into a receptive and alert mode. Even in European tradition, people stand, kneel, curtsy, kiss the hand, or bow the head to a person who is to be honored.

I must say how different I feel when I enter a government facility and a guard stands at attention and salutes me. It gives me a feeling of honor and a sense that I have been recognized. It also makes me want to honor others.

One way that we, as home educators, can ensure our children will be successful in life is to teach them respectful posture and physical movement. For instance, if they learn to stand up when an adult or guest enters, and to turn to them, and either bow or shake hands, they will be welcomed wherever they may travel in this world. This may seem hopelessly old-fashioned to some people, but it’s true. The habit of respectful stance and gestures immediately set that young person apart from the crowd and convey a strong message to the newcomer. Even eye contact can let someone know if they are seen, accepted and trusted, or not. These are the unspoken rules to which all humanity responds.

Parents who model respectful posture and action usually have little trouble teaching their children these qualities. Our family has lived and worked in a number of other cultures, and we have found the importance of first learning the respectful postures, gestures, greetings and manners when we go to a new place. This is a “language” all its own, but it automatically creates a sense of honor and decency, and it greatly reduces the number of misunderstandings that may arise.

When parents teach their children how to show respect, they ensure their children will receive respect from others. The college admissions officer, the bank official, the diplomat, the company president — all the many people who may be the gatekeepers of opportunity — make their choices from a number of candidates and are looking for those who they feel will do the best job. When someone comes in with an upright posture, respectful manners, steady eye contact and warm manner, it gives the interviewer a sense of how that person will act in a wide variety of situations.

Manners show attitude and thinking, and good manners open doors. Our children will prosper according to the habits of thought and gesture they learn in the home.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer who lives in Maryland.

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