Saturday, September 17, 2011

Nothing Special. Everything Special.
































It's been a long time since I've lost sleep over the first day of school, but on the Friday night before our first week of class I awoke in the wee hours with the realization that I'd set up the entire classroom backwards. I say "I" because I'd done it more or less by myself during the early weeks of summer, just after the big move, shifting and shoving furniture around the stacks of boxes that dominated most of the floor space. We hadn't used the indoor space during our summer program, so there it sat during the intervening months, daily becoming more of a calcified fixture in all of our minds, feeling clunky and crowded. We had many conversations amongst ourselves, the parents and I, about how we would have to "make it work" and "learn to love it," but I could see in their faces and felt it in my own bones that something just wasn't right. We were considering such drastic measures as getting rid of our beloved loft altogether.


Maybe it was the impending first day that did it, but it wasn't until the last possible moment that I literally sat upright in bed and thought, We need to flip-flop the room.


One of the "traditions" of our school (although I'm sure many of the parents consider it more of an "obligation") is that each of the families in our 3-5's class give the school a couple hours of time over the course of two days to help Teacher Tom set up the classroom for the new year. In the past that has been mostly cleaning and organizing duties, but this Saturday it was going to be all about heavy lifting. And that's what we did, hauling several unneeded cabinets out to the curb where we attached "Free" signs (everything was gone within 48 hours), then moving rugs, blocks, and shelves from one side of the room and trading places with tables, the loft and toy kitchen furniture that then moved to the other. And when we were done, we all stood back, sweat on our brow, backs complaining, and realized that this is what we'd needed all along. Whew!


The result? All week, as parents have arrived with their children for the first day of school, they've been saying, happily, that our main classroom looks like a tidier, brighter, cleaner version of our old place, a relatively blank canvas, serviceable and cheery. Many of them, those who had only seen it prior to the big flip flop, which was most of them, have appeared almost stunned with delight. I hesitate to show you the pictures because it's not going to look like much to you, especially next to what I've shown you of our new outdoor classroom, but believe me, the adults in our community, I think, have been pleasantly surprised, even delighted.


That's not to say we haven't had challenges during this first week, largely along the lines of parent-teacher responsibilities like snack prep and cleaning. There has been an amazing amount of on-the-fly problem solving and a rash of emails and phone calls tying the 3-5 and Pre-3 classes together behind the scenes. I know that a few people have felt somewhat out-of-control or over-their-heads at moments, but others have pitched in, and there have been no disasters and lot's of creativity, flexibility and patience. 


Of course, this is how it's all supposed to work. Another of our traditions is to run our first week as a "slow start" whereby only half the children are in class on any given day, and each of them, no matter how much of a veteran they are, are accompanied by a parent. In other words we run this week with a 1:1 child-adult ratio. Historically, this is done for the comfort of the child, but in this case we really needed it for the adult part of the community to figure out how we are going to work together in our new space. No matter how much head-and-paper planning we do, there is nothing like actual experience to really figure things out. And there are, I'm sure, several weeks more of this process to go before the learning curve starts to level out.


So here I am, starting my seventh paragraph and only now just getting around to mentioning the children, our raison d'etre. That's because as we adults have flipped and flopped and struggled to figure out systems and policies and procedures, the kids are doing what they always do, indeed, what they must do. Some have clung a bit to mom or dad, some have hesitated at the door looking in, fingers in mouth. There's been no separation anxiety with which to deal because there's been no need for separation. What the children have been doing is painting . . .


. . . building . . . 


. . . sorting . . .


. . . experimenting . . .


. . . creating . . .


. . . exploring . . .


. . . testing . . . 


You know, playing. Nothing special. Everything special. Playing.

Our new place, as is every place, flip-flopped or not, seems to be perfectly suited to that.

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4 comments:

mrs. c said...

We just had day 15 of my pre-k class. It is always exciting and exhausting! This is my 27th year teaching and I love it as much as I did when I started. Check out our blog: lvesprek.blogspot.com
Have a great week and I enjoy looking at your posts each day. I only post once a week unless we have a special event.

Shelly said...

After a full week of feeling kind of lonely in the public school system, I really needed the big warm hug of co-op on Friday. What a great start! You've done an amazing job with our new space, Tom!

Shelley said...

We just did the same thing in my classroom last week. It wasn't until the children actually had time to use the space that we realized the issue was the environment itself. Things have been much smoother since then. I just finished writing a very similar blog about the changes.

Mullin Avenue Workshop said...

Tom,
These are great pictures, and I agree that you and your parents did create a pleasing, comfortable looking space. I like the feeling of spaciousness and openness you've achieved.

It's so great that you begin the year slowly, and that your children have their parents spend the day with them initially. Separation anxiety has been a big part of my group's experience for the past few weeks, and we are just now developing more calmness and ability to play.

The play is what the whole thing is about, as you say here so well.
Brenda

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