When I carve jack-o-lanterns in class I attract a gaggle of children who jostle one another and call out what kind of expression they want on the next pumpkin face. We carry on an informal group discussion as I carve touching on whatever the kids want to talk about, but usually focusing on things like their own jacks at home, stories about trips to pumpkin patches, and plans for what to do with the seeds. We do this as part of their free-play time, so there’s no expectation of hand-raising or taking turns. It tends to be a bit chaotic and noisy, but it works fairly well as preschool discussions go and, I think, teaches some important skills about taking part in a small group activity.
After the first couple jacks yesterday (the first was “happy” and the second “angry”) the crowd dwindled down to a hardcore few, which was great because it made room for the children who would prefer to avoid jostling crowds, letting them have their say in the next few expressions (“sad,” “scared/surprised,” “silly,” and “vampire”). When I first did this exercise 8 years ago, my assumption was that kids would be up to their necks in pulp, but this has never turned out to be the case. Sometimes a child would touch the pulp and maybe even pull out a couple handfuls, but I’ve found that even the kids who tend to get paint up to their elbows and mud in their ears, are averse to the experience of extended tactile exposure to pumpkin guts.
Yesterday was a first. Not only did Annabelle, bandage on her forehead, park herself in front of me for the better part of an hour, she industriously emptied out each of the pumpkins with her bare hands. In fact, I had to stop her on a couple of the larger ones so that I could get to the actual carving. She took charge of the group discussion, organizing the children into taking turns pulling out the various triangles, circles and crescents I was popping out of the faces from the inside of the pumpkin.
“I’ll get the triangle eye, then Dennis gets the other triangle eye, then Finn gets the circle nose. Okay, everybody?”
She was confident, poised, and fully engaged, making sure to include the others in every step of the process. At one point she even persuaded Katherine to plunge her arm into a pumpkin up to the elbow. Once she took charge, the chaos and noise disappeared, and it became a relatively serene and organized activity, unlike any other pumpkin carving session I've ever held.
Annabelle is the middle child in a family of three girls. Middle children have a reputation as peacemakers and master compromisers, and I saw all of that at work yesterday as we carved those pumpkins. What an honor to have worked with her. Annabelle did more teaching yesterday than I’ve done all year.