Sunday, May 06, 2012


One of the defining characteristics of our cooperative preschool is that each class has an evening parent meeting once a month. The first hour is parent education while the second hour is our business meeting. For those of us on the board (as a paid employee, I'm a non-voting member) there is typically another hour of meeting thrown in there. I've written before about how much I struggle, perhaps now more than when I was a boy, with sitting in chairs for long periods of time, so for me these meetings can be challenging. It has nothing to do with the subject matter or the people; it has everything to do with working through an agenda not of my own making.

If you're sitting beside me, you're probably aware of my discomfort as I shift and fidget, cross and re-cross my legs, sit up, lean forward, tap my toes, and doodle. I do a lot of doodling during meetings.

As a boy I loved to draw, usually taking myself into my bedroom when I needed time alone or to re-set myself emotionally, working on detailed drawings that told some sort of story, often war scenes in which I drew the trajectory of each individual bullet with a dotted line as it travelled through space, ricocheting several times before reaching its target. As a younger boy, preschool aged, I spent several solitary drawing sessions attempting to work out the problem of drawing an accurate human figure, one that was more than a face with arms and legs. It was a real ah-hah moment when I realized I'd been neglecting to include a torso (or "tummy" as I then phrased it). It was a discovery that came out of that urge to doodle.

As all our Pre-K classes have for the past decade, this current one is working on a play that will be performed as a treat for our younger classmates, siblings, and parents at the end of the year. With only 3 classroom sessions left before the actual production and still a lot to do, we enter a difficult phase for me as an educator in a play-based curriculum. The children have been creating their vision since January, thinking through every detail of their play, always with the luxury of all the time in the world in front of us, but no longer. Now is crunch time. I don't want to stress them out, but at the same time an agenda has emerged from their efforts and I'm responsible for helping them carry it out. The problem is that this agenda, the children's agenda, has now become my agenda at least insofar has executing it. There are things we want to get done by a certain time. Pretty much everything we've done together for the last few weeks has been about the play: from costume designing and rehearsals to constructing sets and props. The kids, however, lacking my grown-up sense of urgency, aren't always so gung-ho about getting the stuff done when we have the time to do it.

Last Tuesday, for instance, I was performing one-on-one "costume workshops" with each of the kids, trying to get them to commit to details of what they were going to wear in the play. In the meantime Sylvia's mom Toby was working with the kids on making a "fire," while Sena's mom Ann was managing an activity that involved attaching dozens of wax paper butterflies to one of our large set pieces. My head was down during most of this time, but when I did look up, there were kids milling around the room, chatting, twirling, being silly, being kids, and with only a few exceptions not at all tending to the tasks at hand. Toby and Ann were doing much of the work themselves, role modeling like crazy, but it was that whole agenda thing taking over.

The butterfly project, one way or another, did get finished, so I said to Ann, "Now we need to make a building backdrop so the Panther has a target for the webs he shoots out of his mouth." (We all know what that means!) She rolled a long sheet of butcher paper out on the floor, drew a rectangular border around the whole thing, then invited the kids to finish the "doors and windows" of the building with Sharpies.

I went back to my one-on-one "workshops." When I looked up, I no longer saw kids milling around the room. For a moment I thought that a bunch of them must have gone together to the bathroom, but when I stood up for a better view, there they all were, on the floor around that piece of butcher paper. Ann asked me, "Is it okay if they're not drawing doors and windows?"

I could hear them down there in that little world of their own, their heads together, chattering amongst themselves, telling each other about what they were drawing, telling stories about what they were drawing, stories that twined and intertwined, stories with dotted lines connecting this thing with that, including all the ricochets. It was like a gigantic, group doodle, a reaction, I think, to too much time being expected to adhere to an agenda that was no longer their own.

I said to Ann, "Oh sure, whatever they do. It's their play."

It felt good to get back to that place.

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Anonymous said...

The same deal with my class right now Tom! How are we going to get everything done!!


Anonymous said...

OH and Tom, thank you for sharing this. So important to share in this way. Just as I was getting anxious about it all, I have to step back and remember it is about them.

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