Is there any more universal preschool experience than to build a tower all the way to the ceiling?
It always starts small, with just a few blocks, perhaps not even with the intent of going "all the way to the ceiling," and in our classroom at least, on Monday, it started slowly, with just a couple boys arranging a foundation.
They took turns, exchanging observations and opinions on engineering matters, occasionally reminding one another about the ultimate goal of reaching the ceiling.
As others joined them, as it began to look more likely they would achieve their ends, they attached to their tower the official designation of a "Knocking Down Building," but with the caveat that it could only be knocked down once it was finished.
In the meantime, another crew began their own building, not destined for the ceiling, but with the official Woodland Park designation of "Not Knocking Down Building."
And on another part of the blue rug other games were being played.
Then tragedy struck. The "Knocking Down Building" collapsed. There was widespread disappointment.
But soon they were back at it, their goals of reaching the ceiling together still before them.
This time, ladders and taller boxes were brought in, the consensus being that our previous attempt had failed because we hadn't been able to reach the top and had bumped it with our bodies.
As the tower rose again, faster this time, there were more kids involved, more hands making lighter work. As the excitement grew, however, we lost sight of an important pre-caution. We continued to talk about our goal of reaching the ceiling, but we forgot to remind our fellow 3 and 4-year-olds that this was a "Knocking Down Building," but only when it was finished.
Someone couldn't help himself. The temptation of all those blocks, stacked so high was too great. In a flash, with just one two handed shove, the work of everyone came crashing down at the hands of a single child, forgetting just for a second that he was not king of the world. There was a moment of devastating silence. Lips quivered. Rightly or wrongly, Teacher Tom was the first to point out that someone had knocked down a building that everyone had agreed wasn't to be knocked down until it was finished. Others expressed their dismay, although only Teacher Tom was enough of a jerk to lay blame.
As we all stood looking at the rubble, the child broke down in tears of apology, then ran to his father for comfort. A few of the builders headed off for other pursuits, but our core group, re-joined shortly by their friend who had for a moment forgotten he was part of something larger than himself, got back to work. This time we would do it.
When it got tall enough that the grown-ups had to help, we decided that it was finished. We'd not reached the ceiling, but perhaps we'd learned a lesson about exceeding our grasp. Perhaps we didn't want to risk the emotions of once more starting all over. Maybe we'd actually set a new goal: to knock it down together. After all, building to the ceiling hadn't ever been the real goal. This had always been a "Knocking Down Building." That was always its destiny.
All over the world, in preschool classrooms, in churches, mosques, and temples, in living rooms, basements and bedrooms, every child, everywhere, across the eons, has had the experience of coming together with others to to build a tower all the way to the ceiling. They have experienced the disappointment and joy together. They have reset their sights together, re-gathered themselves, dusted themselves off, begun anew.
It's the story of the world.