Thursday, March 22, 2012


I've known Marcus for most of his life. He would come to school with his big brother Charlie to drop him off or pick him up.

As he got older and mobile, his mom Shelly of Tales From the Seam Ripper fame, would turn him lose in the classroom while Charlie washed his hands. The room would be set up for kids; toys, art projects, puzzles, stickers, and games everywhere. Marcus would ignore it all, making a beeline for, say, the vacuum cleaner. Or he'd climb on a chair to try to reach something I'd intentionally put out of reach, like sharp scissors. He wasn't interested in what there was to play with; he was interested in what else there was to play with.

I never got the idea that he'd even noticed me during his daily forays around the classroom. When he arrived to pick up Charlie at the end of the day, it was big brother he was interested in, not me, finding him where he sat on the blue rug and taking a seat beside him, focused on Charlie instead of the tail end of the story I was reading.

Marcus became an official student at Woodland Park last year, although he's always been a member of the community, joining Charlie in our summer program. He was a little bigger, a little more mobile, and just as interested in what else. The original plan had been to use both the indoors and outdoors of our new school facility, which we'd only moved into a couple weeks prior. We'd installed a number of child gates and barriers around the hallways and rooms by way of ensuring the kids didn't wander off into the rest of the building. Marcus went right for them, playing the unofficial role of tester, several times finding the flaw in our security systems. One time I found him struggling to get back in after having made a foray down an off-limits hallway.

We're a cooperative. We maintain child to adult ratios in the 3:1 and even 2:1 ratio. In my 13 years of coming to cooperatives on a daily basis, I've never known of a child making any sort of successful escape. They are always on someone's radar. Marcus, however, managed it, and it was largely because of him that we decided to just run the entire summer program outdoors where we were in one large space.

He still sought for what else. Tugging on the storage shed doors, digging round behind the work bench, entangling himself in the twiggy branches of the lilacs at the top of the concrete slide. Not only that, but this was about the time when he entered his test-everything-with-your-mouth phase. One day he got a plastic bead stuck on a tooth. We were forever making him spit things out: the world is made of choking hazards when you're outside.

When fall came, Charlie headed off for kindergarten and Marcus had Woodland Park to himself. I spent a lot of time before that first day of class preparing for him, thinking through our processes and procedures, putting things not just high, but fully away, securing the safety gates. I didn't think about any of the other kids in this context, frankly, just Marcus because if it worked for him, I figured, it would work for everyone. I even got down on my knees the morning before everyone arrived for the first time and imagined that I was Marcus: what do I see and what attracts me?

He arrived that first day wiggly and beaming. I love him, but I was ready for him. He arrived and washed his hands the way Charlie used to do. He waited for Shelly and the two of them walked together into the classroom. He walked through the door, fell to his knees, and played with the toys he found there. He investigated the water in the sensory table. He made some art. He worked a puzzle. At clean-up time he pitched in enthusiastically. When we went outside where he'd spent much of his summer, he was an old pro. At circle time he sat on his mom's lap -- she was not holding him there; it's what he chose -- and wiggled excitedly throughout every song, totally focused on what we were doing together. This, I've come to learn, is the new what else.

Shelly said it was like a switch had been flicked. He'd gone in an instant from a cat that needed herding to johnny-on-the-spot. All that remained was that wiggle of excitement for, well, almost everything. When we spun the hamster wheel last week he smiled that giant smile of his with his whole body wiggling, even when someone else spun it. No one is more passionate about learning, about doing, about life than Marcus, and it shows up in his whole body: wiggle.

As he made the collage in these pictures, he wiggled in his chair, beaming to himself after placing each piece. I was right beside him, he knew I was there, but it didn't matter to him. He was in his learning zone, a place where he seems to spend most of his time, wiggling.

Now he's a big brother and his baby sister is coming with him to school for drop off and pick up. As he showed her off on Tuesday, he put his hands right on the sleeping baby's face, waking her up. Shelly said, a little tiredly, "He likes to wake up the baby." And Marcus wiggled at me, saying, "Yeah!"

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Lauren said...

Very encouraging post for moms of wiggly (wonderful) baby / preschool boys. =)

liszt79 said...

I love this! I have my very own "Marcus."

Suzanne said...

And this is exactly what makes all the work worthwhile. Thank you, thank you!!! You explain it perfectly!

Bartlett Pair said...

Teacher Tom, Your center is the reason I would love to move to Seattle. My now 18 year old went to one like it in Southern Ca. and I have a 2 1/2 year old, but there is nothing like your center here in Northwest Arkansas. I love reading your posts :-)
Thank you for your writings

Les @ LPN Salary said...

This is making me laugh. Oh wow, my son's a ball chock full of energy. Now he's a wiggler too at times but still has a bit more to learn. He's about to start school and I really hope he wiggles it out, be engaged enough in the activities. Music/dancing keeps him focused.