Monday, April 13, 2015

To Have These Experiences

Not long ago, I wrote about setting a plank of wood across a pair of tires as a kind of prompt. Last week I did a similar thing with a plank between a pair of ladders.

We've recently acquired some new, thicker planks, because we were going through one-inch planks at an alarming rate. The oldest children had started breaking them earlier in the year when they discovered they could create a "diving board" by anchoring one end under the gate, leaving the longer end to extend out over the flight of three stairs. They jumped, downhill into wood chips. Some of the kids really got into the springiness of wood, which is how we lost two of them. These new boards aren't as springy but they do have some bounce and aren't liable to break.

We started by cautiously balancing on my set up, but once we discovered the springiness all anyone wanted to do was jump off. Usually it was one at a time, but some of the kids grew proficient enough that they could bounce together, synchronizing sometimes, but mostly moving gingerly so as not to topple anyone, a feat of cooperation of which they would not have been capable only a few months ago.

After awhile, someone had the idea of arranging tires as targets. We began calling them "holes." Then the holes starting going somewhere, like China or Mexico or Iowa. We announced where we were going before jumping, sometimes asking before we leapt, "Is this the one that goes to Disneyland?" There were heated arguments over which tire hole lead where.

In this case, I would say I was playing with the kids, which means I was trying really hard to not take over, but rather attempting to play as an equal. These new, thicker planks can even accommodate a bouncy adult, so I traveled by tire hole to places like Iceland and Broadway.

It was such a simple thing, really, a plank of wood suspended 18-inches above the ground. It was a challenge, an irresistible challenge, one that allowed us to master it, then to use it to make up a game to play with our friends.

This should be why we send our children to school: to have these experiences.

Later, when the older children arrived, they immediately dismantled it to create their own challenge, a maze of planks along which they balanced. They did not play around with the springiness. I wonder if they're wary, at least in part, because they know they can break: a caution taken from experience.

They did, however, anchor one of the planks under the gate as they had done earlier in the year with the "diving board," using it to prop up another plank. It worked, but the big problem with their set up was that there are times when people need to come and go through that gate. I myself went through three times. On the third time I re-entered, I opened the gate a little too wide, removing the plank's anchor. No one was standing on it at the time, but it did cause a chain reaction of planks. I helped the kids re-set their game and was halfway down the hill when Yuri ran up to me, "You made Henry fall!"

"I did?" I looked back up the hill and Henry was dusting himself off as a parent-teacher checked him out. When I got to Henry, I said, "I'm sorry I knocked you down."

Henry said, through tears, "You didn't knock me down. I fell on my own."

"That's not right!" objected Yuri. "Teacher Tom did it when he opened the gate." Yuri then lead us through a description of the chain reaction he had observed, indicating that my actions had caused a plank to "fly up" which caused Henry to lose his balance.

I said, "I think I did knock you down."

And Henry said, "That's okay. I've knocked lots of people down.

Forgiveness, empathy, and an understanding of at least this aspect of the human condition: this too, is why we send our children to school.

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1 comment:

Unknown said...

Nice post! I came to know many things from this post. Keep it up.