Sunday, September 25, 2011

We're Here To Build A Community

Yesterday, I wrote about how our 3-5's class has started the year spread out over three rooms to start the school year, a great departure for me as a teacher. In contrast, the Pre-3 class is starting off all in one room, the Yellow Room, which is familiar ground for me. I'm sure as the year progresses, we'll be busting out into the Cloud Room as well, but for this introductory period I want to keep them all together, because, after all, we're here to be together. We have some social conventions to learn, routines, even a language of being together and it's going to happen more efficiently if we're in this one room together.

We think of 2's as being suns around whom the universe revolves, just on the threshold of being able to play with, rather than parallel to, a peer. Those with siblings tend to be a little farther along, often quite skilled at navigating play with other children. But all of them already know how to play with the predictable, patient adults in their lives, so the seeds are planted and school is where we nurture them along as we now learn how to play with the unpredictable, impatient children we find there.

Right now, most of them, most of the time, are interacting through adults. When a toy is snatched from a hand, they look to the nearest grown-up with their tears and sense of violation. And the child who now holds the toy is likely entirely unaware that those tears have any connection to her, not understanding yet the societal difference between a toy in the hand of another and a toy on a table top. Each time we adults help return the toy to its rightful place, pointing out the emotion and how it's connected to the behavior, we help not just the children involved, but those who are close by, in this one room, observing, getting a lesson in empathy and an understanding of justice.

And making connections is a big part of what we're all about right now. I've written about 2's as scatterers, but that's a judgement from my adult perspective. What I'm really describing is the aftermath of children attempting to make connections in their world.

For instance, there was water in our sensory table last week. This won't be true by the mid-point in the year, but I know from experience that 2-year-olds will want to test that water with just about every portable thing in the room. (I tell our parent-teachers that the only thing that I'd really like to keep out of the water is the play dough, everything else is fair game.) I started it off with some plastic containers, funnels, and a couple devil duckies

Within the first 10 minutes of class, Dylan had found the tub containing the rest of the duckies tucked away under the loft, made the connection, and immediately dumped them in the water. Rhys then began our second day of class by looking into the sensory table, saying, "No duckies," then making the same connection for himself. Plastic farm animals from the block area made the connection; pegs from the peg boards took a swim, paint brushes, cookie cutters, stuffed animals and just about everything that wasn't nailed down was connected to the water at some point. In the end it looks like a mess, but that's just after effect of the preschool scientific process, which really isn't a whole lot different that the official scientific process my daughter learned in middle school, only no one is taking notes.

Already, after two weeks I've begun to develop my skirt of children, those that swirl around my legs as I move from place to place, often holding onto my pant pockets (which is why I don't wear sweat pants to class anymore: too easy to get pants-ed). Already, after two weeks I've begun teaching them to question authority, holding up toy pigs, for instance, and saying "Moo," then being corrected by children wearing expressions that say, I need to keep this guy in line. And that's what I want right now, a focus on me as a ringmaster, a guy to keep an eye on. As they follow me around the room, it's a form of playing together even if it is through me. Later I'll begin walking my skirt through the room, gently brushing a couple off here at the art table, or there amongst the blocks, but for now I understand that I need to be the gravitational center of who we are together.

As we grow together through coming to recognize our friends, through naming them, through our classroom language, through our growing sense of empathy and justice, through our freedom to try out connections, and through Teacher Tom and the other loving adults in the room, we begin to make our own community, something that has never existed in this world before now, and yet the thing that makes us like all the humans who have ever walked the earth. We're here to build a community.

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Aunt Annie said...

I had to laugh about the pig that goes moo. I do that All The Time with the kids, though I never thought of it as teaching them to question authority (great thought!!)- more a way of testing for myself whether they were listening, understanding, and confident enough to speak up... which I guess is the same thing!

Cave Momma said...

The pig and "moo" thing remind me of what I still do with my now 3 and 4 year olds. Mine love puzzles so while doing a new one I will usually tell them where a piece goes (knowing it doesn't really go there) and they will correct me every time. I love that.

Mullin Avenue Workshop said...

This is such a good post. Thank you for articulating so well the early days of a 2 year old "room". I work with 2 year olds, and we are in early days starting with new children, and I see daily so much of what you have described.

Yes, my children will choose to put everything in the sensory table; they tend to follow me closely about, and they will soon have also established a growing understanding of other children as persons.

I enjoy your description of 2 year olds as "sunshines", a very nice picture.