Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Kneeling On The Ground

It doesn't matter how you worship, as long as you're down on your knees. --Leonard Cohen

Children shouldn’t have to crane their necks and shout to talk to the adults, at least not while in school, their school. I stand to move from place to place, but otherwise strive to stay on the childrens’ level, eye-to-eye. I now live with permanent damage to my shoulder from throwing so many baseballs, especially water-logged ones, but that’s okay because now that I can’t throw a lot of baseballs, I don’t need to. I’m now doing the same thing to my knees, I suppose, dropping down on them over and over; crawling around at my age. I’m thinking of borrowing a pair of our daughter Josephine’s volleyball kneepads. Maybe I could get a bunch and color coordinate them with my sneakers.

Three years later, thankfully my knees are no worse for wear. I still drop down on them the moment kids walk in the room and try to stay there as much as possible. (Getting up, I'll confess, is not always as easy as it once was.) I never went with the kneepads, but at least I've since discovered double-kneed Carhartt work jeans.

I'm a little ashamed to confess, however, that this practice, up until quite recently has been reserved largely for indoors. We live in dampness here in the Pacific Northwest, which means that for most of year, even when it isn't raining, the ground is at least wet, if not outright muddy. Prior to the advent of our outdoor curriculum, I can almost be excused, I think, given that we mostly played on a slab of asphalt when outdoors. 

But lately, I've been making myself get down there a lot more. Sure my pants wind up soaked through, at least at the knees or the seat, but big deal. Is it any worse than the paint I wipe on there when I clean off my hands? And besides, kids aside, outdoors is where being on your knees pays off the most. There's so much to explore down there, from insects and worms to small plants, pebbles and other motes that the vacuum removes from the inside floors.

I'm really digging it: that's where the kids are, even outside.

Last week, for instance, we discovered a plant coming up through the wood chips near the swing set, a sign of spring for sure, but also something obviously rugged enough to withstand the pounding of our feet as we run around up there. So, in that way too, a kind of miracle. We sat around it in a circle, touching it with our fingers, talking about it. The ground might look relatively dry in this picture, but that's just on the surface. I felt the moisture absorbing into the seat of my pants as some of the children decided they wanted to protect it, scavenging around for rocks with which to ring it.

A few of them had stopped in the midst of their stick pony game to see what we were doing there on the ground, dismounting for a moment to help us build our protective wall. If I'd not been down there at their level, I'd likely have missed this game with the plant. I also not have known what was happening when the girls picked up their ponies to resume the game. Using the end of her pony stick to draw in the wood chips, Sadie said, "I'm making a C for Charlotte."

And not missing a beat, Charlotte responded, "And I'm making a S for Sadie."

It was the kind of conversation that would have been swallowed up by the great outdoors had I not been down there getting damp. They then played a game of "guess what letter I'm drawing" for a few moments before galloping off.

A little while later, I came across the two girls again, this time down the hill, their ponies retired against some tree stumps. They were down on the ground, working on something together. Unlike inside where I do it automatically, I had to make myself drop to my knees out there. I think it'll take awhile before it becomes natural to be down in the dirt like that. I was still above them by virtue of us all being on our knees, but at least I was closer to the action, closer to where I needed to be.

Charlotte was making a house for a little beaded figure that has recently come to live amongst the loose parts in our outdoor classroom. Sadie was making a piece of art. It might not look like much in this picture, just a couple of florist marbles on a rock, but being down there with her, I saw that she was also carefully arranging the wood chips around the stone face or place or alter that she'd created.

And as we all knelt there, down on the ground, our knees growing damp I remembered something else wrote back then:

It’s the special world of young children. We’re only visitors there. And the only way to get there is on our knees.

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Kristen said...

OH! I just LOVE this post!

I also wanted to share some cool pants with you (my husband is using them to build our house) built in knee pads! No bulky thing around the knee, they slip into a pocket on the front! I bet if they got wet, you'd never know you were a soggy kneed teacher!

m .j. bronstein said...

Another beautifully written heart-and-soul-filled post from Teacher Tom. How lucky are the children at Woodland Park? (This is a rhetorical question.)

stephanieleah said...

True, true, Tom, and you always articulate it so well. I have noticed lately that i've been standing up more and more in the classroom as well as outside, especially as the children have gotten older. It doesn't matter how old they are, though, they always have to look up to see me (especially me--I'm 5'10"!) so thanks for keeping me mindful of this.

And by the way, the last week my knees, for the first time ever, have begun to hurt. I'm only 34 with many teaching years ahead, so maybe I should invest in those knee pads : )

Juliet Robertson said...

Oh oh oh! You are so hardcore! Ripped jeans, getting damp pants, blah, blah, blah.

I am clearly the original outdoor wimpy teacher. I hate suffering. I have stretchy trousers that dry quickly - warmer ones for the winter months, thinner ones for the summer months. I even wear quick dry underpants on wet days. Woolly socks 10 months of the year, etc.

On the downpour days I succumb to wellies and over-dungarees.

Oh and usually there's a portable seat lying around somewhere. I've got a posh orthopaedic one which is ever so cushy and comfy.

So yes - I'm usually down on the ground but in comfort. Sigh!

Sheila said...

Hi there, Just found your blog. I live in Europe where it is much more common to have male preschool teachers. It is encouraging to see your work, because I think it is important for young children to have male role models. I look forward to reading more!