Tuesday, May 07, 2013

A Necessity For Thriving In The Contemporary World

During my first year teaching 2-year-olds, I had a boy that probably had some sort of mild sensory integration issues. I was not experienced enough to recognize it, but it did result in him spending large chunks of his days hanging out under our loft, complaining to one of his parent-teacher buddies that he was planning to "break the whole school." I've written about Henry before and how we managed to calm him with caution cones, but there was a time, his mother later confessed to me, when she had considered switching schools, worried that Woodland Park was just a bit too rowdy for him. And we can be loud and rambunctious indoors and out.

When Henry headed off to kindergarten his mother told me about dropping him off, how she had anticipated at least a little first day jitters, but instead he just plunged right in to the big school with barely a wave goodbye. She said, "I'm so glad we stuck it out at Woodland Park. He was so ready for the craziness of 25 kids and one teacher."

And that's where most of the children are heading when they leave Woodland Park, into our terrific local public schools, some of which, however, have classes with as many as 30 students. Not ideal, of course, but that's today's reality. I'm glad we're sending kids like Henry off with the confidence and skills they need to handle it, if only because they have learned to thrive within a little cacophony.

Last week was one of our noisier indoor weeks. I'd set up our real traffic light, the one I borrowed from my father 10 years ago and never returned. We used our little push bikes as vehicles, created a tight road grid, and around and around and around we drove, complete with appropriate traffic sounds, including the occasional flare-up between drivers. It's really a big, ongoing negotiation, not entirely unlike regular urban driving.

When we have one of these kinds of set ups in the room, I like to pair it with other activities that lend themselves to concentration. One of our favorites is this Montessori-inspired art exploration in which we use liquid watercolor, pipettes, paper towels and some of those little suction-cup soap holders. Now, no one is telling the kids they must carefully direct one drop of paint into each of the suction cups, then place a paper towel on top to absorb a slow-motion tie-dye explosion, but most of them do, and some of them do it over and over, experimenting with their own coordination, the combinations of colors, and the characteristics of liquid.

It's not an easy thing, requiring a steady hand, focus, and patience, especially if you have a pattern in mind. It was impressive, I think, how capable the kids are by this time in the school year to block out the distractions and get to their self-selected work.

There were several kids who had been getting a little ramped up in traffic, even acting out upon their "road rage," who I saw remove themselves seamlessly from the fray, moving to the art table next door, where they self-calmed by going deeply into this tiny world of painting one drop at a time. I know many adults who do the same thing after a long, trying, end-of-the-day commute by pouring themselves a cocktail. This is healthier and much cheaper.

I wish I could keep them in our little progressive school bubble forever, but ultimately, sooner or later, what we're preparing them for is the real world with large classes and traffic jams. Being able to get about our work of living in spite of that is a necessity if we are going to thrive in the contemporary world.

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Anonymous said...

Loved this post! I must get some of those suction cup holders! I've done the pipette dripping on paper towels, but never with the suction cup holder. Brilliant idea! Also...recently stumbled on a way to make liquid watercolors. Soak tired watercolor markers in rubbing alcohol!

JC said...

Having a hard time figuring out what the suction cups are. Could you elaborate? Pretty please?