Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Best Of All Possible Worlds

Pangloss deceived me cruelly when he said all is for the best in the world. ~Candide (Voltaire)

I tend, when left to my own devices, to take a sort of Panglossian view of things, "All is for the best in this best of all possible worlds." I try to make the most of the hand I'm dealt, then develop a philosophy of optimism around those realities. As the parents of Woodland Park will tell you, I've spent the past nine years being an advocate of small children in small spaces, building up theories about the social and educational advantages of our former cramped quarters in our old facility on up on Phinney Ridge. Both our indoor and outdoor spaces were quite confined. We did have our "gym" into which we could spread out, but for most of the time we were there it's extreme acoustical challenges rendered it essentially useless for most practical purposes (it was so echoey, we couldn't even hold adult meetings in there). And even once we lay down carpet a couple years ago, which helped a lot, so entrenched had these theories become that we still used that extra space in a limited way.

He got the 10 foot length of gutter balanced on the box in such a
way that he could turn it on a pivot, allowing him to take aim
before releasing his balls.

Our new "third teacher" here at the Center of the Universe is showing me a new possible world, and I'm starting to see that it's for the best.

Here you can see he is taking aim at an unsuspecting adult who is innocently watching
the impromptu performance that is taking place on the stage.

In the past, what we called our "block area," being the largest continuous area in the classroom, was often used for activities other than building. We used it for box play, for gutters, tubes and balls, for giant pendulums, and mat mazes, all activities that for a day or a week would move our constructive play to table tops elsewhere in the room. But even when we were sticking with the blocks, being the only real open space in the room, it always attracted those kids who needed to be making large motions with their bodies, who learned best through full-body activities, the kind of things that requires space, rendering the block area a challenging place for building. No matter how much adult help you had in "protecting" your structure, it was only a matter of time before someone inadvertently knocked it down.

Then he spies the length of giant tube just lying there and turns his
apparatus into position. All the while the performers continue
their show, undisturbed by the big science going on in the same

Our new main classroom, the Yellow Room, is about 100 square feet smaller than the old space, which was just barely large enough as it was, making it imperative that the 3-5 class, with it's larger bodies and more active kids, bust out into the Cloud Room. We could see this almost from the start and I spent my summer coming to terms with the demise of my carefully constructed theories about small children in small spaces. We have a new world and I'm coming around to my usual conclusion that this, in fact, is the best of all possible worlds.

Now this looks interesting.

Let's see what happens.

We spent last week, for instance with our gutters, tubes and balls, as well as the last of our moving boxes, spreading ourselves out. It's incredible to be able to use 10 foot lengths of gutters in there, all of our tennis balls, and still have plenty of room for intense, full-body dramatic play simultaneously. It has been a wonderful eye-opener to watch some of the guys who bounced off the walls last year, calm down in this place and finally get down to the business of concentration and study, using as is their nature, their full bodies to do so.

The old third teacher never would have allowed this to happen.

I love that we can now run without endangering out friends indoors! I love that we can throw balls indoors! I love that we have a place where the kids can scream and yell and make loud music without disturbing the children who crave a more quiet experience indoors! I know that outdoors is where this kind of play usually happens in schools, but for the first time we can accommodate this learning style all day long. We, of course, are still trying to spend at least half of our days outside, but what a boon this is for us.

But perhaps even more incredible is when I turn my gaze to our new block area and see what we are making in there, free from the concern than an errant ball or tube or foot will decimate it. Last week, Violet was making an elaborate building, carefully balancing blocks. I looked away and heard a familiar crash. Instinctively, I was prepared for the whine or the shout of outrage or the sulk, but when I looked I saw Violet, sitting amidst a pile of block rubble, smiling sheepishly. "I accidentally knocked it down," she said, "but that's okay, I know how to build it again." And she did.

This wouldn't have lasted 5 minutes in the old space.

This is the best of all possible worlds. 

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Raven Castleberry said...

Good afternoon Mr. Tom, my name is Raven Castleberry. I am a EDM 310 student at the University of South Alabama. I enjoyed your post "The Best of all Possible Worlds." To see the little boy position his gutter from the teacher to the tube was hilarious. I honestly thought he was going to aim and fire. I am glad that you all were able to get a larger room. Like you, I believe that kids can't grow in small spaces. Like you said when you heard the crash you expected a cry but instead you received a smile and a "that's okay I can build it again." Hearing those words and seeing her face had to be priceless. Teachers like you inspires me to become an elementary teacher. Keep up the good work and you may keep me posted on my blog at

Aunt Annie said...

Once, when I was changing jobs as a school music teacher, I was asked if I would be able to cope with the considerably smaller and less flexible performance spaces for music than I'd enjoyed in my previous position. I told them it wasn't about the place, it was about the kids, and everything else was a moveable feast.

And it's so true! I came up with some of my best performance work with the kids in that smaller space. But yes, a different type of performance was possible in the larger auditoriums of the other school. Did the difference affect the kids? Or me? Not at all!

Bless you for your flexibility. There's much to be said for looking for the possibilities rather than the impossibilities.