Are There Lessons?

This week a visitor came by Roots for a short while at maybe eleven o’clock ish.  As we chatted happily about the school, she asked me, “Are there lessons?”  I figure what was meant is: do we all sit down at once to do the same thing at the same time— not so much.  We do get together as a group mostly for the purpose of building community connection.

But are there lessons?   Oh yes!  Here are a few that popped into my head from just this one morning.

On the Map

On this Friday morning a child arrived to school and shared about the trip his family was taking to Atlanta, Georgia right after school.  His mom spent a few moments with him looking at the U.S. map we have on the wall and talking about the journey.  Later I noticed this child looking at the map again and saw another child join.  They  talked about several places of interest and their connections to them.  They asked each other questions and pointed to the map.

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Crocheting

Also on this Friday a talented mom joined us for the day and brought extra crochet hooks of various sizes and styles and some lovely chunky yarn.  She was quickly joined by four kids who worked for a bit with their hands and talked about their past experiences with similar handwork.   There were opportunities to watch a model and try out a technique for ourselves, to hear new language around this craft and to manipulate small objects in intentional ways.  This mom spent as much time accessing what the group already knew as she did showing them “how to.”

IMG_5681Building a Ramp

It was a rainy day and chilly, so kids were spending less time outside and as I noticed a few kids trying to figure out where to engage, I remembered their interest in drawing on white boards earlier in the week and invited them to join me with this again.  A few kids took me up on this.  After a while all but one drifted away as did I.  When I returned my attention the child remaining had hacked the small white boards for his own purpose of creating ramps.   He added the nearby wooden trucks and a box to prop up the end.  I was drawn away elsewhere again, but in a few minutes he asked me to return to see his creation.  I sat nearby for a few minutes watching him build, play and rebuild.  The ramps would fail sometimes, so he would try a different way or he would come up with a new idea he wanted to play with, like making a ramp going up so that the truck would “jump.”   He tried different angles and different supports with the purpose of continuing his play.

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So that’s three small events before 11 am, and I am noticing some key features.

  • They happened organically.  That is they occurred in their own time and way out of a natural inclination.  Children joined because of their own interest in the ideas and in the personal connection possible.
  • They involved support and relationships.  None of this happened in a silo.  These spontaneous lessons were tied to children’s relationships with their families and school community.  Even in the last example of independent ramp building, this child began to engage with the material at an invitation from me.  He continued on his own, in his own way and then requested a show of support in having someone to share his work with.
  • They all involved a lot of language- a lot of talking and sharing experiences and ideas.  The informal talk around the “work” of crocheting, designing a ramp or pointing out places on a map created an authentic context for the “content.”
  • They involved different amounts of time.  From two short conversations around a map, to a somewhat short lived crochet experience to an extended time of ramp building.  “Time on task” isn’t really all it’s been worked up to be.  I do note when kids engage in a particular idea of activity for an extended time, but sometimes, instead, kids come back to an idea multiple times for short bursts and sometimes whatever a kid needed from a learning situation happens really fast and didn’t need to be dragged out.
  • They all involved informal learning around important but intangible skills like  following your own interests, sharing knowledge with others, failing, revising, and making connections.
  • They were all informal lessons but ones that included engagement with traditionally formal skills or knowledge.
    • The discussion of geography around the map may be the most obvious.  The kids in that scene also engaged lots of oral language skills as they asked each other questions and engaged textual literacy skills as they specifically referenced particular places on the map in their discussion.  Literacy nerds [don’t judge!] call this referencing the text.
    • The crocheting kids also engaged in oral literacy practices, but what might be more hidden is how through handwork they were developing their fine motor skills that are directly tied to writing and handwriting.  I myself don’t care much about handwriting as a skill in itself, but as young children improve their fine motor skills, they become more adept at flowing their thoughts from their minds to the page.  Fine motor skills create more ease in doing the work of composing.
    • Finally in the ramp building example this child is engaging with physics and design principals as he builds and rebuilds and with narrative composition as he tells and retells a story with his play pieces.

Here’s to reclaiming and renaming and undoing the traditional lesson!

Beyond Never Land: Philosophies of Childhood

PETER PAN:
Are you ready for today’s lesson?

ALL:
Yes, Peter!

Yesterday my family saw a great production of the musical  Peter Pan put on by Northwest School of the Arts.  As I watched my kiddo see it staged for the time my thoughts became a bit philosophical .  As I listened closely to the lyrics of Never Grow Up and watched the story  of Never Land, unfold I thought a lot about our school, about what it means to be a kid and to grow up.  In some ways we are creating a Never Land at Roots, where play and fantasy rule, where children are honored and we create our own wonder with nature’s abundance. In a world where these things are traded in (particularly at school) for adult directed living by age 5, this is precious space.

PETER PAN:
Listen to your teacher. Repeat after me:
I won’t grow up,
(I won’t grow up)
I don’t want to go to school.
(I don’t want to go to school)
Just to learn to be a parrot,
(Just to learn to be a parrot)
And recite a silly rule.
(And recite a silly rule)
If growing up means
It would be beneath my dignity to climb a tree,
I’ll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up
Not me!

But I think that at schools like ours we are doing something more than Never Land managed.  Remember at the end of Peter Pan Wendy is all grown up.  She won’t or can’t fly anymore, not even for a short trip off for “spring cleaning”.  The best she can do is prepare and allow her daughter, Jane, to fly off temporarily (“just for spring cleaning” says Jane) with Peter as the final curtain closes.  But Wendy herself?  Man, did she depress me!  Dour and heavy footed, so much so that Peter Pan dissolves into the same tears he started with at the beginning when his shadow was lost.

What I think we are working at everyday at Mosaic is not just a space for children to thrive but a place and community where adults are thriving, too.  And the children see that and can participate with adults as they engage in things they love like music, gardening or play.miguel2

I won’t grow up,
(I won’t grow up)
I don’t want to wear a tie.
(I don’t want to wear a tie)
And a serious expression
(And a serious expression)
In the middle of July.
(In the middle of July)
And if it means I must prepare
To shoulder burdens with a worried air,

As I was ruminating on all this Zach Slayback’s blog post, Let’s Abolish Childhood, popped up in my feed.  He is saying a whole lot of what Peter Pan says and more.  He questions the artificial social divide between children and adults that empowers one group and makes the other submissive.  He notes that much of our conceptions of childhood comes from the “childhood-as-studentdom” trope while our conception of adulthood is connected to the “adulthood-as-crisis” one.   Here’s a quote that is at the center of my read of Zac’s idea:

So, Let’s Abolish Childhood

We don’t have to just accept this lot as the one which the universe gives us…. This requires us to do away with the artificial division of life into childhood and adulthood. Children are simply persons growing into adults, and adults are simply persons who have grown past a certain point of biological development. They do not wield inherent authority over children that is not given to them in virtue of some other role (i.e., parent). Similarly, children are not something odd to be looked down upon and sequestered off. As soon as they exhibit an ability for sound judgement, they ought to be the primary decision-makers for those things in their lives over which they can exert agency.  They ought to lead their own learning and exploration, and only pull on adults when necessary for further instruction or for last-resort enforcement reasons in the rare case that children are naturally disagreeable.

Yes!  I am all for ridding ourselves of binary divisions and hierarchal dualisms like adult/child.  I believe strongly in treating children with respect as fellow humans.  I am very interested in disrupting the dominant paradigm model of authority over children.  Kiddos making decisions is at the core of the work I do everyday at Roots.

And! Remember why Peter Pan took Wendy to Never Land to start with?  And why the lost boys all came back to live with the Darlings at the end of Act II?  They wanted a mother and a family.  They wanted support and love.  (Okay, it is very dominant paradigm  that the Lost Boys had to agree to be quiet and do as they are told to get that, but stay with me.)  There is possible a new kind of relationship between adults and children that is supportive, active, respectful, empathetic and yes two-way, but not really the same on each side.  I think adults can be with kids in ways other than Zach’s named tasks of “when necessary for further instruction or for last- resort enforcement.”   I think this rather still secludes childhood from adulthood actually.

carla

I am good with my role as a person who has spent more years on this earth (in this life 🙂 than children.  I am good with the experiences this time has offered me and what I have learned and how I can share my excitement about these things with kids, including what I have learned about living with other people, empathy and finding rhythm in life.  I like being able to share those things with kids in authentic ways 🙂  Happily for me I have found this community of people through which I am seeing my adulthood as  something other than tie-wearing, serious expression, worried-air crisis of adulthood.  I see it as a valuable.

I am also good with the role children have as people who have spent less time on the earth (this time around, of course ;).  I value and learn from their connectedness, authenticity and fresh-eyes.  Adults and children don’t have to be just the same for us to value both and create active, respectful, loving relationships among us.    I am with Zach and Peter, that we need more shift- less student-dom and less crisis, more lands for play and whimsy!    And it’s not just about giving kids the reigns, it’s about actually LIVING together in families and communities, which requires a lot of love, support and empathy all around.

And Never Land will always be
The home of beauty and joy