Monday, September 17, 2012

The Act Of Us Coming Together

We might as well not come to school at all unless at least one of the highest goals is to practice doing things together. If that isn't what school is for, then we could just leave kids to learn in their own bedrooms, backyards, and from the isolation of computers and apps.

I always wonder about all my classes at the start of the school year: what will it be that brings them together? I've done this job for awhile, so I can be confident that it will happen, at least with the 2, 3, and younger 4-year-olds whom I've taught now for a decade and more. It will happen and often I can even "manufacture" some things around which I know their time together will revolve. 

I've had these and other questions about our new 5's class. It's a new thing to all of us this year. Some of these children are already in kindergarten, joining us after a morning in public school; some could be, just barely according to the calendar, but are taking a year with us first; others would be in preschool in any event, but have chosen us, perhaps for the challenge or the afternoon class time. All last year, I referred to this new school to which we were giving birth as a "transitional kindergarten," but for whatever reason I've not been using the term since summer began and we knew for certain the class was a go.

I know what kindergartens look like, at least in "traditional" schools, I've seen them, been in them, watched children lean across their desks to touch their noses to worksheets. I know what children this age look like when they're in school, but what is happening at Woodland Park this year is going to be different than that.

We don't have desks and won't have work sheets and there is no one giving us a list of things children ought to know and by when. It's going to look more like the kindergarten I remember as a boy than the ones I see today: the way they looked before someone pushed a first grade curriculum down into them, shortening childhood by a year.

There might be some who would say that we're irresponsible, going forward with this idea for which there really is no idea, other than old-timey memories and the ideas that will emerge from the act of us coming together. I prefer to label what we are doing as "an experiment," which is, after all what every human endeavor is until it has been done before: a trail and error experiment. The kind of thousand step experiment that leads to the invention of the light bulb. This really is, at bottom, what every class I've ever taught has been. That is the best of us, gathering 'round and asking, "What if?" then working together to answer that question. 

What will bring this 5's class together?

For this first week it has been all about water and sand as our Seattle summer, like last year, has arrived full-blown in September: hot days, cool nights and lots of sun. Someone is always up there pumping the cast iron pump. Our cistern holds 10 gallons. After this week, it's become clear that it's time to trade that out for the 30 gallon model, a project I hope to complete, with the 5's class, this week.

It's been a wonder to watch as nearly all of them are drawn up there to the top of the sand pit with shovels and buckets and gutters, shouting out to these people they've just met, "More water!" and "Pump faster!" I'm accustomed to being busy during the beginning of the year, helping children work their way through conflicts, wiping tears over turn-taking, and that's probably still coming, but so far there's not been much for me to do as they dig canals, strategize their next moves, test what will and won't wend its way through these manmade passages. On the very first day of class, they had the water flowing all the way down to the row boat: the only times that's ever happened before has been with a lot of adult assistance.

It's caught me off guard to be honest, that this is where they've converged to begin forming their friendships, their partnerships, their alliances. I had all kinds of other plans. We were going to build this together, play that game, engage in these art projects, but it's been the sand and water and blue skies that have made them familiars in the matter of days.

We did take a break from the sandpit on Friday to learn how to vote. The very first thing we did was decide, together, that we want to perform a play.

(This is the first year of our 5's class. If you have a 4-5 year old, live in Seattle, or know someone who does, we still have a few spots available. Contact to set up a tour.)

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Anonymous said...

Sounds like a blast! Wish I was 5!

Jen said...