Tuesday, March 03, 2015

The Community We're Creating Together

Last week I wrote about the importance of teachers and kids getting on the same "bandwagon" through the artistic process of creating individual relationships. Since then, I've been reflecting on another level of relationship: the one between children and the work of art -- the community -- we create together as we come to school each day.

By the time the children are four and five, that relationship is primarily the product of their friendships, the rocky love affairs they have with one another, but younger children, those approaching the cusp of figuring out what friendship means, it's largely about developing a concept of "we."

When the two year olds first walk through our doors, they are coming to "school" or "Teacher Tom's school." It's a largely alien place, but after a couple months, as they grow familiar with the space, the expectations, and the routines, they begin to call it "my school." And even if you don't hear those words come from their mouths, you can see the confidence of belonging and even ownership in their body language. They no longer insist that mom, that visceral connection to "my family," remain nearby, many quite literally commanding their parents to "leave now."

By this point in the school year, these kids who are one-by-one turning three, are keeping me on schedule rather than the other way around. Most don't need to be reminded that our day begins by washing our hands. Every day, a handful of children inform me when it's "clean up time." And when I look at the clock on the wall, I see their internal ones are set almost as accurately.  If we try to skip a part of our regular routine, there is a rebellion. Some begin to fuss in anticipation of the story I'm going to read to them, knowing that it signals the end of our day together and they aren't ready to go home.

When we put things away, they know where they belong; they put the toy plates on the kitchen shelf, the costumes go on the racks, the stuffed animals in the basket, the devil duckies in the box, and the play dough in plastic bags so it will be fresh for tomorrow. Sometimes we've moved the furniture around to accommodate our play. When I say, "Let's move it back where it belongs," the children, swarming together, know right where to push it.

Last week, Aza was the first kid outside after eating some snack, his classmates still indoors wrestling with their coats. He usually makes a beeline for the water pump and it looked like he was heading that way when he stopped to notice some planks of wood older kids had scattered on the ground the day before. He identified them as parts of the new playhouse; some of the pieces that allow children to fashion doors, walls, and windows wherever they choose. Before continuing on his way, he took the time to collect those planks one by one and stash them behind the windmill where I've made a habit of tossing the loose ones when not in use. I've never suggested that the children be responsible for this. I've never even suggested the parents do it. It's something I've just done myself as I putter around the place, but here was Aza, interrupting his play to take care of things.

This is what we do. This is our school. This is the community we're creating together.

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