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.
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.”
Building 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.
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!