Thursday, January 24, 2013

Common Cause

On Tuesday, I was sitting off to the side watching our Pre-3 class play. I was struck by how many of them were paired off in conversation: real, face-to-face conversation in which one child spoke while the other listened, then vice versa. The ones I could overhear were short, mostly functional exchanges, although some were apparent non-sequiters being bandied about in the style of conversation. 

It starts to happen about now every year. Or rather, it's about now that I start to notice it because, like most things, it might appear to have sprung up all of the sudden, even while it's something for which they've been practicing their entire lives. Not all of them are there yet, of course, but clearly we've achieved a kind of critical mass. It's a point we reach every year, I suppose, but I don't always pinpoint it like this. 

It's one of those every day miracles when the children begin to turn toward one another like this: having things to say, expressing opinions, sharing silliness, creating bonds, lashing themselves together with words, and without words, in common cause even if now it's only for a few seconds at a time. As I watched, I sat still and silent as if witnessing something so delicate that any movement from me would be to risk destroying it, although I know from experience that what I was watching is as tough and persistent as a weed: it will keep coming back and coming back and coming back.

In fact, by the time they're 5-year-olds together, not so very far away at all, it will be everything many of them can do to pause long enough in their free-form relationships and projects for a productive circle time. For most kids, the drive to connect with the other people is as natural and strong an urge as any they feel.

It might just be me, but I'm regularly amazed at how readily, how easily, indeed how eagerly humans of all ages come together, in dialog or not, to do things together. Sometimes, yes, both inside and outside the preschool classroom, things devolve into bickering, hurt feelings, outrage, and tears. As responsible adults, we respond to these things, helping, coaching, teaching. At the end of the day, sadly, it's often these moments we reflect upon, but really, honestly, most of what happens between the children is this: creating, talking, sharing, building, living together cooperatively in the world.

When I think that there are preschoolers, and there are too many if there is even one, who spend their school time together being taught to read, or count, or made to spend their time focused on their teacher at the front of the room instead of their peers beside them, when I think of children being filled up then drilled or parked in front of screens that "teach" them science facts or how to make mess-less art, I can't help but see an impoverished, stunted education. It's tough like a weed, this drive to connect, but even weeds whither in parched soil.

When 2-year-olds look into one another's faces and talk, this is the heart of a true education. As important as they are, things like literacy and numeracy are mere tools for working and playing together. Doing things with the other people is the substance of our lives, throughout our lives, just ask anyone on their death bed. They'll tell you this has always been what it was about and their regrets are always over those times when they lost sight of that.

When young children play, this is what they do: they say things, express opinions, share silliness, create bonds, and lash themselves together with words, and without words, in common cause. The better we become at this, the more satisfying our lives. This is the most important thing the human animal learns from play.

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1 comment:

Christine Natale said...

Another great one, Teacher Tom! Thank you!