Thursday, April 04, 2013

Following His Own Internal Bus Route

When Fergus was two, his mom joked, "He likes school, it's just the other kids he's not so sure about." It wasn't that he actively disliked the other kids, it seemed to me, it was more a matter of them getting in his way and using the stuff he wanted to use as he explored his own passions. He's always much preferred to get the adults in the classroom engaged in his pursuits, which usually involve dramatic play based in the real world like trains or building things, but he just saw no compelling reason to invite his classmates to join him. It isn't exactly unusual for a 2-year-old to not really notice his classmates, but in Fergus' case, I think, he'd definitely noticed them: he'd just not been particularly impressed with what he'd seen out of them so far.

Now as a 4-year-old he plays with his peers, but still in a sort of "take it or leave it" way, enjoying their participation, but not necessarily feeling heartbroken when they don't share his interest.

Lately, he's been all about buses. Not just buses in the general sense, but specifically the Seattle-King County Metro system. His family is fond of bus adventures and he seems to have more or less memorized his way around town via them. You can't fool him, for instance, by talking about route 63 because "There isn't a route 63." For the past couple weeks or so he's been driving his own bus routes around the outdoor classroom, using one of our large plastic hula hoops as his steering wheel. He's very specific about where the stops are, blowing right by you if you're not in exactly the right spot, and occasionally even if you are, explaining, "This bus doesn't stop there. It's an express."

I've felt a little sorry for him although he's not seemed to have felt sorry for himself, driving that route with an empty bus, mostly stopping for me and a few of the other adults willing to play along. He was cheery enough, but it seemed like such a cool game that as a teacher I couldn't help but wish that some of his classmates would join in. In the meantime, I took several trips down to Tacoma to visit their glass museum, then returned home using my transfer that he always checked to ensure it was valid for this day (sometimes it wasn't and I had to re-pay the full fare).

Then last week, I noticed that Rhys, another very self-directed kid, had figured out Fergus' game, and was occasionally hitching a ride on the bus Fergus was driving, following him closely around the outdoor classroom. I could tell it bothered Fergus that his passenger seemed to be boarding at unofficial stops, that he wasn't paying his fare, and, indeed, that he wasn't even waiting for the doors to open with their characteristic hiss. That said, he didn't kick him off either, but rather tolerated him the way Metro drivers do when they have a slightly troublesome passenger. It was a short lived play partnership, but I think it opened several more eyes to the fact that there was a bus route serving Woodland Park. For the rest of the week, I noticed kids watching Fergus as he drove, standing aside as one would for an actual bus as he passed, hopping on for a quick lift when he stopped for a moment.

I'm not really sure what Fergus thought of all this sudden interest in this game that he had been perfectly contented to play on his own with the occasional participation of an adult. He hadn't invited it, nor was he showing anyone the curb.

On Monday, we took the 16 for a field trip to the Pacific Northwest Ballet, returning home on the 32. The ballet class we took together was fun, but as is true with most of our field trips, the bus rides had the most impact. Yesterday, a group of the 5-year-old boys were all about Fergus and his Metro game, each of them picking up their own "steering wheel" and following him around the space. Fergus kept looking behind him, not quite sure what to make of the fact that he was not alone in this game; that, in fact, he was leading an entire fleet of buses.

At one point they were all stopped together and I asked them for their route numbers. Fergus was driving the 15, taking people to Ballard. The other boys were driving fictitious routes like "number 50 eleven hundred" and "12-19." I waited for Fergus to correct them, and I could see he wanted to, pausing then smiling, choosing, I think, to treat it as a joke. I'm pretty sure he also noticed that the other buses seemed to be more about racing about at high speeds, and that they often forgot their stops, but to his credit he let it go, sticking to his own internal voice, while letting the others follow theirs.

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Heidi P said...


Funda said...

Great post, Tom.

kaelyn benham said...

I just "stumbled" upon your blog and I am SO thankful for what I have seen. I dream of this kind of education for my kids and with your words I see it is possible! Blessing to you and your love for these kids and their creative spirits!

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