Thursday, March 21, 2013

Sometimes It Goes That Way

I tell our parent-teachers that I consider clean-up time to be the core of our curriculum. This is the most concrete way that the children begin to make the school their own in the only way that anyone ever truly takes ownership of anything: by assuming responsibility for it. The problem for many of us is that they don't always do so with the kind of speed and efficiency that we would like to see. That's why I also tell the parent-teachers that I don't care how long clean-up time takes, even if it stretches out to 20 minutes or more, something that never actually happens, but it's an exaggeration I use to illustrate my point.

While I know that most parents fully support the idea in theory, I can see that in practice this really grates on some parents, who simply can't help quietly speeding things along with their larger hands, stronger arms, and greater sense of urgency. Finn and Grey's mom Jenny, however, is a seasoned veteran of our school, a woman who knows the power of not lifting an extra finger when she knows the kids can, however eventually, handle it for themselves.

Yesterday she was the parent-teacher in charge of our sensory table. We've been playing with wine corks, containers, and tongs this week. I thought I'd create a little variety and challenge yesterday by adding water. I imagined the kids having fun in the way bobbing for apples is fun, trying to capture those corks with their tongs, then transferring them to containers. I didn't imagine it would engage 5-year-olds for a long time, but I figured it would be a relatively entertaining "drive-by" station. As it turned out, it wasn't even that. I'm sure a few kids played there, but Jenny was left pretty much all alone for the hour. I tried several times to lure the kids to the table, but most dismissed it with their hands in their pockets, not even humoring me. Oh well, sometimes it goes that way.

When I banged the drum that signals clean-up time, I wanted the kids to move the wet things to a towel where they could drip dry. We made quick work of the rest of the classroom, all except for the sensory table. That's because the kids had decided, finally, to put those tongs to work, using them to painstakingly transport a couple hundred corks to the towel one at a time. It was a slow, slow process, one Jenny courageously fought the urge to hurry, instead sticking to making those informational statements about what she saw happening in front of her. 

Twenty minutes later we were finally done. Yes, sometimes it goes that way.

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The Knitty Gritty Homestead said...

So important not to coerce/guilt small folk into cleaning up! It was my husband's birthday last night so I enlisted the help of my three older kids (ages 7, 5, and 4) into tidying up, setting the table, and helping with dinner. I had the baby in a sling while making burgers. It was really hard not to just tidy up the entranceway myself when my 4 year old dug her heels in! But once she got started, putting boots together side by side, she took pride in her role in preparing for the party. She proudly shared her contribution with daddy, and felt like a really important part of the whole that is our busy family. Important for us large folk to remember!

Anonymous said...

Is there no value to modeling a bit? Using informative statements is powerful and valuable, but kids do notice what we're doing as adults. How do you get around the kids noticing the parents not pitching in?

Teacher Tom said...

@Anonymous . . . One of the underlying ethics of our school is that it is the children's school, not the the adult's. That said, I don't think it's bad at all to pitch in, especially when it's genuinely pitching in. And by that I mean when I'm HELPING the child with her job, rather than doing it FOR the child. Sometimes I'll say, "Sally is picking up the blocks and putting them in the bin. I'm going to help her," and then I help as long as we're both working together. And, of course, when informational speaking isn't working, the next step is to model the behavior along with more "sportscasting" (e.g., "I'm picking up the blocks.") Of course, as a reader in a Facebook comment thread mentioned, most preschool teachers are women. In her son's school they rely on modeling clean up behavior as a top line strategy. She feels like her son is now coming to see women/girls as the ones who are supposed to do the cleaning! So, you know, there's can be a downside to modeling if you aren't careful.