Monday, November 26, 2012

"You're Stuck"

We have a couple little red wagons. Last week, I was sitting on the workbench, watching Donovan and Jasper pulling them around the outdoor classroom, playing a version of follow-the-leader. They were attempting to navigate through one of the more cluttered parts of the space when the "leader," Donovan, got stuck on one of our manufacturing patterns.

After attempting the technique of pulling harder, then yet harder, he looked up at the nearest adult, who happened to be his mom. She said, "You're stuck."

When I tell these stories, I'm always trying to pare them down to their bare essentials, but with another 20 or so kids following their own agendas, there's always a lot more to the stories than I'm telling. In this case, during the time that we wrestled with the stuck wagons, a third boy decided to put a chair in Donovan's wagon, in which he apparently intended to sit.

He pulled the handle again. She said, pointing, "It looks like that thing is blocking your wheels."

He only glanced in the direction she pointed, apparently convinced that his mom still offered the best bet for a speedy solution. Sticking with informative statements and offering minimal help is much harder when it's your own kid: this is the same person who not long ago needed you to do everything for him. 

She stepped closer, but fought the urge to simply nudge the wagon into a clearer path. "If you look right there, you'll see what's blocking the wheels." Donovan didn't want to have anything to do with this. He wanted mom to help him and seemed to be in the process of digging in. 

I was reminded of my own 5-year-old daughter saying to me on more than one occasion, "I don't like your teacher talk!" As a new teacher, still practicing the habit of speaking informatively with children and holding them competent, I knew what she meant -- it wasn't the way I normally spoke with her. It was "teacher talk." I answered, "You're right. What I should have said is that I don't want to help you because I think you can figure it out for yourself." She didn't necessarily like it any better, but she did appreciate that I'd pulled back the curtain on this teaching technique.

Up to now, Jasper, the "follower," had waited patiently, holding the handle of his wagon. While the "teacher talk" wasn't working so well with Donovan, it had apparently sparked Jasper to devise a solution. Without speaking, he dropped his wagon handle, took hold of the rear of Donovan's wagon, then shifted it a foot or so to the right, clearing the obstacle. With a tug, Donovan discovered he was free and off he went. I'm not even sure he knew that Jasper had been the agent of his freedom.

Jasper then started to follow his friend, getting hooked on the same damn manufacturing pattern. River's brother Hayden, a 10-year-old, was visiting us for the day. He'd been watching everything. With a sigh, he picked up the rear of Jasper's wagon and moved it into the clear.

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