Sunday, March 06, 2011

Why Must We Sit In Our Chairs?

We spend too much time in school learning with just parts of ourselves (mostly our eyes and ears) when it's pretty evident that we were designed to learn with our entire bodies. 

I'm not going to pretend that I first conceived of the balloon cage with this in mind, but I'm reminded of full-body learning every time we surround our block area with floor-to-ceiling caution fencing, lay down the gym mats and fill the area with 100 balloons.

I'll never forget watching one of my daughter's kindergarten classmates from the door of the classroom, a boy with a brain designed for math, working on an assignment. Ostensibly, they were "sitting" at their desks, but his body simply couldn't do it, at least not while doing arithmetic.

He was standing, straddling his chair, bent over his work. His feet fidgeted beneath him, constantly, his toes getting tangled between the legs of the chair, eventually knocking it over. Without lifting his eyes from his paper he returned it to an upright position with his free hand, only to once more tip it on its side with his hyperactive feet. He was the first one in the room finished and given his track record I'm sure he'd proven himself proficient. How great it was that no one commanded him to sit, to be still, to "behave."

Maybe I should care about what the kids are learning in the balloon cage, but I don't. I only care how they are learning as they cavort with their friends, often cramming a dozen or more of their constantly moving bodies in there together, joyfully.

All those bright eyes, those sweaty brows, those happy voices, letting me know that every channel is wide open, every faculty tuned into this big, amazing world, taking it in, managing it, managing themselves, one another.

Why can't school always be like this? Why must we sit in our chairs? Why must we turn off all but one or two of our channels?

I suppose much of it has to do with that thing called "classroom management" or the prejudice that a quiet room is where the learning takes place.

Who would take us seriously if we were having this much fun all the time?

What kind of worker bees would we crank out?

How would we ever pass those standardized tests?

If this is how we learn today, won't the rest of our lives just be one big disappointment?

Or will we grow up to demand a world in which we get to work out math problems on our feet and keep right on playing in the balloon cage?

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Juliet Robertson said...

I am SO with you on this one, Tom. The theme of next Friday's workshops is "Messy Maths" and NO chairs are allowed! LOL!

Many years ago I remember visiting a G1 class where a very bright girl was sitting in her chair not doing her maths. When I asked her to show me how to do the sums in her workbook the reaction was amazing. She didn't write down the answer. Instead she went through this prolonged dance that included getting up, turning around, wiggling her fingers and shaking her body.

My own theory was that she was bored stupid by the workbook maths and needed a balloon cage too.

Amanda Lynn said...

A wise fortune cookies once told me "I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand." Children learn in so many different ways and will not be getting the most they can from simply sitting in lectures. Kids needs to get up and move and see and experience things first hand then they will truly stick with them. What a great post

Casey Allen said...

I love this. I remember growing up and having a hard time sitting still in class. I think it is a good and fun way to let kids be kids. Sitting down to do assignments doesnt do much for me. I like to standup and walk about and think outloud!

Jeanne Zuech said...

Thank you, Tom! I always appreciate your insight, your perspective and your absolute respect for children engaging in their world in their way.

Darcey said...

I love this post! I wish that everyone knew that this is the best way that children learn and even adults for that matter. We all learn much better by doing something and interacting with our environment. If the boy needs to be moving around while learning math, then let him. It's hard enough to learn that stuff sitting in a chair quietly, but if he can focus better while moving around, i don't see a problem with that. This is one of my favorite posts of yours and I've linked up to it here: You've had a lot of great posts and keep up the great work in your preschool and on the blog.

BarbaraZab said...

These kids will grow up to do many great things; for the lucky ones who do great things they love, that will include play; but the luckiest will get to be preschool teachers, where the play never ends.

Rachel (Hounds in the Kitchen) said...

Brilliant. Thanks for reminding us all that kids (and adults) move and learn in different ways.

Chapter Forty said...

Yeah! you are all out there and you understand.

I get my son to run around the house placing flash cards on the right household items, he rushes to beat the timer, he gets quicker each time and learns to read as well.