Wednesday, January 12, 2011

What's Going On Here?

I have more to report on the giant tube front (including what we did when someone got stuck), but something remarkable happened in yesterday's Pre-3 class that just can't wait.

Now understand, these are mostly 2-year-olds, although some have recently turned 3. This is an age when hitting as a science experiment is de rigueur, so much so that parent educator Dawn Carlson and I have taken to starting every school year, before adult emotions get involved, warning parents that their child will likely be both the victim and perpetrator of this kind of absolutely typical behavior at some point during the next 9 months. We then have to revisit the topic several times during each school year as it crops up and parents start to worry that their child is becoming either a lifelong violent outcast or victim. This is the age that inspires parent educator Kate Kincaid to invoke the metaphor of the children being individual suns around whom the universe revolves. This is an age when children snatch things from the hands of others, step on other people as if they're pieces of furniture, push, bite, and otherwise generally behave as if they are the only one in the world, all without malice, of course. It's developmentally appropriate, expected, and normal.

This is also the age when we, as teachers, attempt to plant the seeds of sharing, cooperation, and friendship, but don't really expect to see the sprouts until after a long winter of learning (or perhaps thinking).

We had our "big blocks" out yesterday. These large wooden construction toys are right on the edge of being too heavy or unwieldy for 2-year-olds to manage on their own, which means they usually need adult help to handle them safely. Dawn and I were standing side by side, discussing business while watching the children begin to build. Right on cue, Calder, who was struggling to pull a block from its storage place, looked up at us and said, "Help." Before we could respond, Charlotte was on the scene. She and Calder then picked up the heavy block and, still working together, carried it wordlessly to the construction site and placed it. Dawn said, "Look at that!" while I fumbled with my camera, failing to get it fired up in time to catch this rare moment. Rats! I'd missed it. But then it happened again.


What happened next was nothing short of a miracle as these 2 and barely 3-year-olds, formed a sustained, cooperative building team like nothing I've ever seen before in a Pre-3 classroom.

There was not a lot of smiling as they went about their business, seemingly reading one another's minds. How did they decide where to place the blocks they held together without words, without pulling or tugging or pushing? How did that happen? How did they know what to do?

I love how there are almost no adults visible in these pictures although lord knows there were enough of us (11) in the classroom, and even when a grown-up body does appear, it's on the periphery, watchful, but not directly involved, letting the play evolve in its magical way.

And this wasn't shoddy construction work either. It was stable enough to climb on, with care, of course.

Maybe the next time we get together, they'll go back to hitting and snatching and stepping on one another, but on this day they showed a collective competence that makes my heart sing in anticipation of mankind's future.

Look how Nevy's mom Rachel is in the background, hands ready just in case,
but otherwise letting it be about the children.

I was sad when it was time to clean up, feeling that I'd witnessed something for the ages, an epic moment when a group of individual suns all rose together on a new day. But then I found it wasn't over, not by a long shot. Just as cooperatively as they had built together, they cleaned up together, carrying the blocks back to the storage cart in a steady stream, still not smiling, still not talking, a team just going about the work of their childhood. And when it came time to put away the boxes, they did that together too.

Again, notice how the adult is letting them do their own
work even though it would go much faster with a little
grown-up management.

And then at some point, again without words being exchanged, this work crew spontaneously decided as a group, to tip the box up on end.

They were pretty proud of that as you can see.

Clean-up complete, we began shuffling the kids off into the bathroom to wash their hands for snack time. As I passed the sensory table, which had been full of ground cork and needed to be emptied, I noticed a couple kids who had not started the transition to hand washing. Emptying the sensory table is usually a job for an adult, but there they were, two more individual suns working together to scoop the cork into a bucket. I was caught so off guard the photo is a blur, but man!

What's going on here?

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Scott said...

Seems like "cooperative" is becoming a word for the classroom as well as for your school!

Dawn said...

what a wonder! i have the privelage of seeing this pretty often in my at home program -- i think because of the small setting and how long the kids are together -- usually a good 4 years from the time they are 1 year. It still amazes me ... period.
light and peace

Miss Elizabeth said...

that is so amazing for 2 years old! Even in a fours rom that kind of cooperation is sometimes impressive, but at 2?! Amazing.

Play for Life said...

Ahhhh ...There are times in teaching when you just have to savour the moment Tom. Clearly this was one of them!
Donna :) :)

Eva said...

Wow amazing cooperative play! What's even more amazing is that it was initiated by the children :) lovely

Plants seeds of knowledge...for our future! said...

WOW, having worked with this age for many years this is RARE! Large numbers of birds dying inexplicably, large numbers of fish washing up dead, and now toddlers cooperating willingly it must be the end of the world! LOL, what a great thing to experience and see!

Saya said...

AWESOME!!!!! :)

Deborah said...

Two and 1/2 year olds are sooo amazing - such a beautiful post Tom! I read it twice!! This may be one of your most profound groups yet as they move up through your program.

Oona said...

Hi Tom. I have just chosen and used your wonderful blog post to complete the second Edublogs Teacher Challenge. My blog address is
I thoroughly enjoy reading your posts. Thanks.

Mrs S said...

Hi Tom
Came via a link from and am another participant in the Teacher Challenge. What a great story you tell about co-operation. Very inspiring.

Ruary said...

This was great! I've seen a log of a preschool teachers day done so well. Important to keep the camera handy. We've just bought all our 11 teachers a camera each for just such a purpose. See my blog at Room 9 St Pats