Thursday, March 14, 2013

Teaching Genius, I Tells Ya'

I sometimes worry that I think to much about what the kids are going to do at school each day. I mean, I suppose that has something to do with the fact that I'm "the teacher," and thinking about what the kids are going to do at school each day is a big part of the job. In fact, that's pretty much what my employment agreement boils down to: come up with stuff for the kids to do and we'll pay you. 

The truth is that the best I can do is provide opportunities for the kids to do stuff, but it's really up to them whether or not they do them. And typically, enough of them engage enough of the "activities" I've planned that it looks like I know what I'm doing, but the best stuff . . . Well, for the sake of my family, I guess I ought to take credit for that too.

The big deal activity for the 3-5's class in the outdoor classroom these days is for anywhere from two to ten kids to grab ahold of a rope, then follow one another, usually quickly, all around the space: a version of follow-the-leader that the kids seem to be calling "Zoom" or "Zooming." On Monday, it was just one group of guys with one rope. Yesterday, there must have been four or five Zooming teams racing around the place.

Now, I am responsible for those ropes being out there, but those particular ropes, the long, yellow nylon ones, have been there quite a long time, doing nothing more than being a pain in the neck. We've long had a collection of 3-foot long ropes out there -- those get used for all kinds of things -- but since I've added the long ropes, they've really been more of a nuisance, regularly being pulled out, found too unwieldy for practical purposes, then left in the middle of a walkway to trip the next passerby. I'd made a mental note just last week to toss the ropes back in the shed, forgot, and so they were left out for just that one extra day which made all the difference. Teaching genius, I tells ya'. 

One of the things I've started doing each Friday is to finish our week by asking the kids in our 5's class to help me with my curriculum planning (the fancy term for "stuff for kids to do") by helping me compile a list of activities they'd like to see in the near future. One such wish was for a return of the ever popular tennis balls and cardboard tubes set up. I obliged that request last week.

This is something we've done a lot over the years, kids setting the tubes on blocks to create ramps and angles, then studying how their balls roll through them. It's usually one of the most reliably successful activities I plan, but last week it felt like a mess in all three classes. I don't know what was different, maybe there were too many tubes, maybe not enough, maybe it was because we used the large wooden blocks instead of the cardboard blocks, maybe it was the weather. Really, who knows, but in the 5's class the kids were really more focused on hoarding the balls than actually playing with them, the 3-5's wanted to build with the tubes and ignore the balls altogether, while the Pre-3's -- at least a few of them, and that's really enough to dominate an activity -- were hell-bent on just knocking everything down then, I guess, rolling around on the floor amidst the debris.

At one point as the Pre-3's played I tried to get things back on track by holding one of the longer tubes in my hands, thus foregoing the easily knocked over block tower, and role model rolling balls down it. Before I could roll the first ball, however, one of the boys picked up the lower end and peered into it. I peered back at him. We shouted a few words to one another through the long darkness, then I said, "I'm going to roll a ball to you."

He didn't move his face, so I said, "If you don't move your face, the ball will hit you."

He smiled at me through the tube.

I said, "I'm going to roll the ball. I don't want to hurt your face."

He answered, "I want to see the ball coming."

"Okay." I adjusted the angle so that the ball wouldn't be going too terribly fast and let it go. I'd anticipated him moving at the last moment, but no, the ball hit him square in the nose. I was now expecting tears, but instead got a giggle. He then returned the ball to me via the long tube and waited for me to once more roll the ball down into his face. We repeated this several times. Soon there was a clamor of 2 and 3-year-olds who also wanted a tennis ball to hit them in the nose. This is what I'd managed to role model.

So again and again, I rolled balls into the noses of young children, who then returned the balls to me for "more." Teaching genius, I tells ya'.


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