Wednesday, December 11, 2013

What A Small, Remarkable Thing

There are some things about our classroom environment about which we've been very thoughtful, but many others that are accidents of history, laziness, or the cooperative ethic of "he who picks the paint brush chooses the color."

In fact, that ethic was literally true when it came to the color of a couple of our tables and most of our chairs. They needed a fresh coat of paint and a parent offered to take them home during a break to work on them. I've come to the realization over the years that my eyes don't see color the way others do (blues and purples look a lot alike to me, as do certain browns and greens, among other challenges) so I rarely offer my own opinion on color, especially when there are stakeholders beyond myself. When she asked me for color input, I declined, leaving her faced with the proposition of engaging in a group-think kind of process, which is one of the strengths and banes of cooperative existence. Since we needed the paint dry within a few days, she made her own choice, which she did by "stealing the color scheme from my tampon box." This is why the chairs are a cheery purple and the tables are vibrant green.

On the other end of the paint color decision-making spectrum are our butter yellow walls. This was a hue that came from a long, elaborate process involving the voice of pretty much every member of our parent community. It involved the formation of an ad hoc committee, meetings, consultations with experts, and at least two separate presentations to the full group, the second necessitated by the first proposal being met with a lukewarm response. After months of back and forth, we finally voted, in a cliff hanger, on the color we have today. That was over a decade ago. When we moved to our new space nearly three years ago, some parents began to immediately gripe about the color of the existing walls, which were, as I recall, a blueish-green, one mother saying, "I'll go insane if I have to spend more than an hour in this room." With everything else we had going on, what with moving and all, no one was up for another process so we took the lazy route and simply agreed to stick with the color we'd chosen years ago. I suspect, we'll have butter yellow walls forever.

The organization of our home center area, and in particular our play dough tools, is one of those things that I inherited from teachers who came before me: toy food in tubs in the toy fridge, toy dishes on the shelf under the toy sink, and phones, cameras, and binoculars on the top shelf of the cabinets, all of which benefit from making a type of sense. As for the play dough tools, they are mostly organized into two tubs which normally live on the bottom shelf of the cabinets. One tub is (mostly) home for our cookie cutters, while the other is for miscellaneous tools like rolling pins, hammers, and cutting tools, then finally, there is a separate yoghurt container in which we keep our play dough scissors. I know that it makes no sense to continue sorting the play dough stuff this way. In fact, I've always known this; it should be enough that these items wind up in one of the two containers, but we've been doing it this way for as long as I've been here.

I'm amazed by the institutional memory of our community as it continues to sort our play dough tools the same way over and over again, despite making little sense. Even when a newcomer or one of the two-year-olds makes a mess of the system, it's generally returned to it's former glory within a day or two. In fact, by now, three months into the school year, even most of the two year olds have figured it out simply by the process of living with it. I stood in amazement last week as a group of four or five of them, during clean up time, re-sorted all three containers, a project necessitated by a visiting grandma who was just trying to be helpful. They didn't scold or ridicule. They simply found their school in disorder and re-ordered it. What a small, remarkable thing.

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