Tuesday, February 04, 2014


Last week, 5-year-old Tristan brought a plastic slinky for show-and-tell, then proceeded to leave it behind in the outdoor classroom where it was, naturally, discovered by other children who had no idea it was personal property. By the time he found it again, it had been stretched, twisted and snapped into two pieces. He bemoaned it for a few minutes, mumbled speculatively about taking it home anyway, then dropped it unceremoniously on the ground and scooted off to play with his friends, who are a much stronger draw than the righteous, holy anger and despair one is permitted over a favorite thing that is no more. When he first joined our school, having transferred from another, he arrived each day looking for me. That lasted for about two weeks. Since then it's been all about his friends, which is the case for most of his classmates.

In fact, this is something I realized last year, my first teaching our 5's class. The kids like me, they think I'm fun. I make their list of reasons why they come to school each day, but I'm not at the top: it's their friends that make them passionate about coming to school. This is why we start our days outdoors, sometimes staying out there with no agenda other than playing together for as long as an hour. It would be insane to attempt to bottle up all that initial excitement for one another within four walls. I call this "convening time," and only once the initial excitement of again seeing one another begins to wear off do I call them in for the indoor portion of our day. (And yes, we return outdoors afterwards.)

This is not the case for the children in our Pre-3 class. If they drew up their lists of reasons to come to school, I'm confident that Teacher Tom would stand right at the top of most of them. It's not that their friends aren't important, but rather that they are still relying quite a bit upon me and other adults to serve as conduits through which to interact. Most of our group conversations, for instance, involve children talking to me, then me echoing their words back to the rest of the group. Of course, I try to get them talking directly to one another, and they're doing it more and more as the school year progresses, but one of my main roles is still to serve as a kind of flesh-and-blood telephone.

Last Friday, however, I was replaced by Tristan's broken slinky. One of the children brought it to me. I took one end while she held the other. We stretched it out as far as we could, then she let go. I said, "Doink!" She laughed and raced back to grab her end, saying, "I want to doink again!" So we did it again, both of us saying, "Doink!" By the time we'd repeated the game a half dozen times we had a circle of children who also wanted to play doink. I relinquished my end, then we rounded up the other half of Tristan's slinky and for a half hour a rotating group of a dozen or so kids took turns playing the game without conflict, beaming into one another's faces, laughing, shouting "Doink!" together, connecting as friends, finding their passion for one another, forgetting for a time that Teacher Tom even exists. 

I often talk about this developmental transition as when the children turn from me and toward one another. Usually, it's so gradual I only recognize it upon reflection, but last week I saw it as it happened, their next step on the path to what makes life worth living: connecting cooperatively with the other people.

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1 comment:

Stephanie Schuler said...

Great stuff, Tom! Thanks for sharing! Gives me some good ideas for my lesson plans!

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