Friday, October 30, 2015

There They Went And Learned It Anyway

When I began teaching at Woodland Park 15 years ago, I found our cast iron pump stashed away in the back of a closet. I figured it was back there because it was somehow broken, perhaps irreparably so. I mean, why else would my predecessor have relegated something so cool to storage room purgatory? I showed it to the kids and we decided to take it apart and see if we could figure out what was wrong.

We didn't diagnose the problem that first day, but I figured things out enough to do an internet search that helped me determine that we needed to replace the two leather gaskets. And, in a nutshell, that's how I became a cast iron pump expert. 

They say that a set of leather fittings should last a decade under normal use, but the preschool use is obviously not normal use because we're changing ours at least twice a year and we are currently due for a change. I'm expecting the parts to arrive any day now, but in the meantime, we're finding that we need to "prime the pump" several times a day to keep the water flowing. What that means is that if the pump sits idle for 5-10 minutes, we need to pour a little water into the top of the pump to get it drawing water again.

The way the set up works is that our 30-gallon cistern (a Rubbermaid tub set in the sand pit) is filled by a garden hose that I've semi-permanently installed along the base of the fence. Typically, we refill it two or three times a day. We know it's time to do this when the kids call out, "The pump is empty!" or "We need more water!"  Then an adult runs outside the school fence and turns on the spigot. We know the cistern is full when the kids call out, "It's overflowing!" Every now and then the children conspire effectively enough that no adult notices the overflow until we have a rushing river and a nice muddy pond. 

During these periods when we are awaiting new fittings, I try to keep an anticipatory bucket of water on the wall near the pump for priming purposes. I've tried to teach my whole priming technique to other adults, but since most of them only work around the pump a handful of times a year and aren't nearly as focused on the minutia of pump operations as me, I really shouldn't blame them for needing me to help with the priming process. Nevertheless, it's sometimes frustrating to be earnestly told by an adult several times a day that the pump "isn't working," and to then have to stop what I'm doing to show them how to "fix" it. In fairness, a handful of my parent-teachers have figured it out, but it has been primarily my responsibility to keep the water flowing.

Lately, however, I've been spending less time on the project. Perhaps out of their own frustration or perhaps merely because they've been watching carefully and want to try it too, I've discovered that some of kids, the ones for whom the pump tends to be the center of their outdoor play, have figured it out for themselves. For the past two weeks, I've watched no fewer than a half dozen different children prime the pump on their own. Not only that, but the first order of business each time they get the pump drawing water again has been to refill not one, but two buckets to sit on the wall in anticipation of the next time the pump needs to be primed.

I'm kind of in awe of this development. I'd not been able to teach it to adults so it hadn't even occurred to me to attempt to teach it to the kids. And there they went and learned it anyway.

Earlier this week, I asked one of the guys why he had filled two priming buckets, something I never did. He answered, "In case somebody forgets and spills one. Then I have another." That's happened to me before. I'll be using the two bucket technique from now on.

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Thursday, October 29, 2015

"When Is Wrestling Time?"

Wrestling is a part of every preschool's curriculum, although it's typically it falls into the category of an extracurricular activity. Stereotypically, it's 4-5 year old boys who spontaneously engage in it, although teachers find themselves separating girls and younger children as well. When I first began teaching 15 years ago, I knew nothing about this phenomenon, and like most teachers, I think, I at first responded without really thinking, figuring that it was my job to scuttle what looked like a version of fisticuffs. I would say, "Now is not wrestling time."

Then one day, a boy asked me eagerly, "When is wrestling time?" I answered rather dismissively with one of those classic adult dodges that leave children frustrated, "Not now," but it was a good question, one I took home with me that day. I had enjoyed this sort of wrestling as a boy, usually with my brother who is only 20 months younger, but the kid who had asked me this didn't have siblings at home. When is wrestling time? Well, I decided, it would have to be at school.

The following day I threw down some gym mats, explained that wrestling is a sport with certain rules, and said, "Now is wrestling time."

We start with a short meeting, where we confirm that no one wants to get hurt, then agree to a few special rules to make that less likely to happen. Each group of kids shapes a somewhat different set of rules, but these typically form the core of our agreements:

  1. Wrestling happens on the mats
  2. If someone says, "Stop!" everyone stops
  3. Keep your hands off people's heads and necks
  4. Hitting and kicking are not part of wrestling
  5. No running on the mats (being slammed by a kid with a head of steam can really hurt)
  6. No knee drops onto people
  7. If you get hurt (and people always get hurt wrestling) you can sit in the "crying seat" until you're ready to come back
  8. If you get angry, you need to leave the mats until you're not angry any more

We also find ourselves making new rules on the fly, depending on what's happening. For instance, one year a boy with aikido skills was literally throwing his classmates, so we said that "if you throw someone down, you have to fall with them."

The beautiful part is that it works, not because of the rules, but because the children genuinely don't want to hurt themselves or one another. I recently wrote a post about how we often expect children to respond to questions or requests too quickly, how the rule of thumb is that we need to allow them 12-15 seconds to process and respond. I've found that not to be the case when it comes to wrestling. When a friend at the bottom of a pig pile cries "Stop!" the children are so fully attuned to, and focused on, one another that they respond almost instantly. In fact, much of the time, even in the midst of what looks like a fracas, you will see that they are constantly checking one another's faces, even studying them in an intuitive and ongoing effort to read their friends' emotions, even while attempting to manhandle their bodies. And, of course, this is the reason we wrestle: not because we want to hurt one another, but because we love our friends so much. The goal is not dominance or submission, but rather to have a wild, sweaty good time and to do that we need to take care of one another.

Researchers tell us that this sort of rough-and-tumble play is necessary for many children and is a pathway to greater self-regulation, empathy, and understanding. This week, as the 4-5 year olds have wrestled, I've witnessed them practicing this sort of care for one another even while engaged in intense, body-on-body fun.

Of course, children get hurt, and as our rules suggest we indeed have a "crying seat," where I send the children who bump their heads or (which is more often the case) feel momentarily overwhelmed and need a break. It may sound a little heartless, I suppose, but the kids, even the ones who generally tend to seek more TLC than others, come to accept the bumps and bruises as a "natural consequence" of choosing to engage in wrestling. And much the way children using glue guns learn to shake off the occasional burn in order to not interrupt their creative flow, our injured wrestlers tend to be back on the mats within a matter of minutes.

This take-down sequence is a good example of how wrestlers care for one another even while falling to the ground together.

While it's true that most of the wrestlers are boys, girls find their way to the mats as well and more than hold their own. Indeed, over our past two wrestling sessions this week, for a total of about 1.5 hours, 16 of our 23 four and five year olds gave it a go.

I still think back gratefully to the boy who asked me, "When is wrestling time?" Sadly, for too many children, the answer is, "Never," and I would assert that the world is a poorer place for it.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Constructing It Themselves

"Children should be able to do their own experimenting and their own research. Teachers, of course, can guide them by providing appropriate materials, but the essential thing is that in order for a child to understand something, he must construct it himself, he must re-invent it. Every time we teach a child something, we keep him from inventing it himself." ~Jean Piaget

"Don't worry Leon, you can always make some more blood."

I heard Luke say it in passing, consoling his friend, as I was on my way to somewhere else. Not having heard what came before or after, it struck me as both hilarious and intriguing. I couldn't help but try to bring it up again. When next Luke and I met on the playground, I said, "You can always make some more blood."

"It's true, Teacher Tom! Your heart pumps and makes more blood. That's why you don't run out when you bleed." Luke knows a little something about bleeding. "And you know what else? Blood is really blue."

I was sitting on the ground with Audrey and a couple of other kids. Audrey interrupted, "No, blood is red."

"No, really," Luke said, turning to her persuasively, "It's blue inside, but when it comes out it looks red."

"Luke, it's red. I've seen it."

"No really, it's true, it's blue."

I thought I could clarify. "I think what Luke is saying is that blood looks blue when it's inside our body. See my vein?" I showed her my inner wrist. "Doesn't it look blue? Veins are how blood flows in our bodies."

Luke supported me, "That's right, Teacher Tom. That's what I'm saying."

But Audrey had other information. "No, that means the blood is flowing to your heart, and it's red when it flows away from your heart. That's the way blood flows: around and around." She drew a circle in the air with her finger.

Some of the other kids were fascinated with studying the visible veins in their wrists and I was distracted into that conversation, but the science debate continued between our two experts. By the time I re-focused on them Luke was saying, "I guess we're both right."

And Audrey replied, "Yeah, we're both right."

Friendship won out over being right, but not over science. Luke was, of course, correct in his assertion that blood inside the body -- as seen through the skin which reflects blue, but absorbs colors of other wavelengths -- appears blue to the human eye. And, of course, that is the nature of color: we only see what is reflected. It's why everything appears to be the same color, black, in the pitch dark. Audrey was correct in her assertion that blood flowing away from the heart tends to be a brighter red because it is highly oxygenated, while on it's return trip it tends to be a sort of purplish-red because it is oxygen-depleted. 

It's tempting, as an adult with a little more information, to step in and correct the flaws in their arguments, to give them the correct, or more correct, or more complete answer. This is the sort of conversation that we so often jump on as a "teachable moment," but I chose to let them conclude like this. Science is built on inquiry and collegial debate, just like this one. (The angry debate is for politicians and theologians who are too often more invested in winning arguments than understanding.)

We have debates like this at Woodland Park every day, large or small group discussions on a wide range of topics children raise themselves, be it the subject of volcanoes, sharks, ballet, or Santa. Among the children, we are always able to construct a more complete understanding.

Luke and Audrey came to the table with essentially true, but incomplete information, which is how we all go through life every day. They each walked away with a little more truth, but their knowledge, like that of all scientists, remains incomplete. That is what drives the scientist, not the knowledge, but the incompleteness, the wanting to know. Science is about discovery and when we leap in with all our grown-up "knowledge" we too often rob children of what makes science, or anything for that matter, worth pursuing.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

What If We Taught Art The Way We Teach Math?

Surveys of American students find that the majority of us feel relatively good about ourselves and mathematics through elementary school, an opinion that takes a sharp nose-dive starting in about middle school and continues in a downward trend through high school. This pretty much tracks with my own experience. I was usually pretty good at figuring it out and aside from a couple clinkers, I tended to bring home A's and B's. I even managed a surprisingly high score on my college entrance SAT test, an achievement I ascribe to my strategic ability at test taking more than any mathematical aptitude, which encouraged me to continue pursuing mathematics coursework through my first couple years at university even though I had no future plans that seemed to call for those higher-level math skills.

But even as I was capable of playing the math "learning" game, I didn't like it. I found it tedious and pointless. When I expressed this opinion around adults I was mostly told, in so many words, that I was wrong. When I shared it with my peers, they mostly agreed it was boring, with the exception of the occasional friend who, was, if not joyful, at least able to take a puzzle-worker's pleasure in ciphering. Those were the friends I chose as homework partners, especially if they were pretty girls, which may at least in part explain why I could keep my grades up while despising the work.

Today, as a preschool teacher, I don't attempt to "teach" math, yet all day long I see children engaged happily in both solitary and collaborative mathematical pursuits through their play. It's quite clear to me that humans, young ones at least, take great pleasure in the organizing, sorting, and patterning that lies at the heart of what we call mathematics. They take great joy in counting, in comparing, and in those eureka moments that come with mathematical discovery. It flows through them as naturally as, say, art. 

So what happens? Is our national "hatred" of math a problem with humans or a problem with how we try to teach it?

One of the most useful parts of attending professional events like the Play Iceland conference from which I recently returned, is the time one spends just shooting the breeze with colleagues. I'm an early riser and while discussing this topic with my new friend Tim over breakfast, he shared a fascinating way of thinking about the problem with math education.

What if we taught art the way we teach math? We start by showing students all the colors, not to play with, but to memorize. Then, after a few years of that, we give them two or three colors and permit them to only paint straight lines over and over until they've mastered them. Then we work on arcs and then other curved lines for a few years. Finally, after many years of this sort of drilling, we move on to shapes where we drill some more. Then comes more repetitive drilling on colors, color mixing, composition, until finally, after many tedious years, the art student, now at a university, is finally permitted to actually create something of his own. Oh, and never, ever take a peek at someone else's paper. It's a ridiculous, backwards idea, but in a very real sense, this is exactly how we attempt to teach math.

I have a good friend who holds degrees in both physics and math. He once told me in frustration, "The problem with math in high school is that they think it's about numbers and memorizing and right answers. There are no right answers in math! It's messy!" You see, for him, math is a blank canvas upon which he can explore, guided by his questions and creativity. This is how I see math being explored by the children in our preschool classroom.

I'm a product of the sort of math education one finds in our schools today: one of rote learning, where you don't get to ask your own questions or express your own creativity. I'm sharply aware of how ignorant I am, but I do know what math is not: it is not algorithms and ciphering, even as that forms the basis of what we call "math education." I do know that math learning can and should be a joyful, fully human experience, one, like art, that is not discrete from the rest of the world, but woven through everything we do, yet we are producing generation after generation of young adults who "hate" math. 

This is not a problem with people or math, it is clearly a problem with how we expect children to learn it.

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Monday, October 26, 2015

Opt Out And Yell Louder

Some education news came out of Washington, DC last week: the Obama administration is calling for limits on standardized testing in public schools. You might think this is big news, but it's not. Some are calling it a victory for teacher, parents, and students who have seen our schools turned into virtual test score coal mines over the course of the last couple decades, starting with the policies of George W. Bush and intensifying under those of the current administration.

Says Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, one of the nation's largest teacher's unions, "Parents, students, educators, your voice matters and was heard."

Of course, in politics, and in particular when it comes to the corporate-sponsored "Shock Doctrine" style politics being practiced on education policy, being "heard" does not mean that anyone has changed their minds. No, being heard simply means that parents, teachers and students have managed to create enough of a political storm that our deep-pocket opponents are forced to change their tactics. Make no mistake, their end game remains exactly the same: the full-on privatization of our schools and the elimination of democratic control in the name of profit.

Remember it was not that long ago that soon to be departed Education Secretary Arne Duncan tried to dismiss opposition to federal-corporate education policies as just a bunch of frustrating "white suburban moms" selfishly fretting about junior. Even as part of last week's announcement, the only blame Duncan took upon himself is being responsible for "problems with implementation." This does not sound like a man who has "heard" anyone, let alone someone who has any intention to "solve" anything other than, perhaps, a public relations problem.

A major study that hit the newswires at almost the same moment Obama was finally "hearing" us white, suburban moms after a decade of shouting at the tops of our lungs as if our children's futures depend on it, and they do, confirms what we have been saying:

The number of standardized tests U.S. public school students take has exploded in the past decade, with most schools requiring too many tests of dubious value . . . A typical student takes 112 mandated standardized tests between pre-kindergarten classes and 12th grade . . . By contrast, most countries that outperform the United States on international exams test students three times during their school careers.

But let's be very clear, the administration is not responding because it has seen the light in terms of what is best for children or for education, they are responding to political pressure. Indeed, as Peter Greene points out, they've tried to pacify us with lip service about high stakes testing before and, despite the headlines, they aren't really taking any blame:

. . . before you get excited about the administration taking "some" blame for the testing mess, please notice what they think their mistake was -- not telling states specifically enough what they were supposed to do. They provided states with flexibility when they should have provided hard and fast crystal clear commands directions for what they were supposed to do.

You see, these guys don't think like you and I. They are incapable of seeing their failings as anything more than public relations obstacles to overcome. To paraphrase Stephen Colbert: they always believe the same thing on Wednesday that they believed on Monday no matter what happens on Tuesday. They have never been interested in quality public schools. They have never been interested in quality schools period. They are only interested in schools run on so-called "free market" principles, ones from which they and their buddies can cash in. As Bill Gates, the leader of the corporate take-over crowd, famously said, "(We will) unleash powerful market forces on our schools."

This is what Rick Hess, the director of Education Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote back in 2012 after taking part in an education summit sponsored by Jeb Bush and attended by many of the leading figures in the corporate education reform movement (parenthetical comments are mine):

First, politicians will actually embrace the Common Core assessments (and indeed, most states adopted the standards, sight unseen, before they were even developed) and then will use them to set cut scores that suggest huge numbers of suburban schools are failing (the classic "Shock Doctrine" technique is to create an artificial crisis). Then, parents and community members who previously like their schools are going to believe the assessment results rather than their own lying eyes (surveys consistently show that parents love their own schools; it's the other schools they think are failing). Finally, newly convinced that their schools stink, parents and voters will embrace reform.

I first became aware of this when the propaganda film Waiting for Superman was released, seeing it for the fear-mongering it is.

Common Core advocates evince an eerie confidence that they can scare these voters into embracing the "reform" agenda. 

These quotes were included in a Washington Post piece authored by Carol Burris, executive director of the nonprofit Network for Public Education Fund, as a follow-up to education dilettantes Bill and Melinda Gates' recent PBS sit down interview with Gwen Ifill, in which they once more revealed themselves, and not for the first time, to be completely ignorant when it comes to education, teaching, and the real challenges facing American schools. It doesn't matter what happened on Tuesday to these people: they are convinced they can scare us into subjecting our children to their for-profit plans.

The bad news is that we will never persuade the Bill Gateses and Arnie Duncans of this world. They are too invested in being right, in scaring us with their manufactured crisis, one they've created with testing designed to guarantee failure so they can play Superman for profit.

The good news is that we don't need to persuade them if parents, teachers, and students stick together. Too many of us have noticed that their capes are tattered. Our political storm, the one that has been created by us sticking together, may not change their minds, but our movement is growing. Each year, more parents are opting their children out of the test score coal mines, we are starting to see the horror of their charter school dreams, and even the mainstream media is starting to realize that there is another side to the story.

Normally, Bill Gates gets the stage to himself, but last week, PBS and Gwen Ifill gave one of our own, Jesse Hagopian, equal time. Here's what he said:

And if you want to read what Jesse said about the experience on his blog, here's the link.

We are winning, but don't let the Obama administration's announcement last week convince you that it's over. Now is the time to opt out and yell louder. Our voice matters and it's being heard.

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Friday, October 23, 2015

"I'm Not Worried"

I try to be as Zen as the next guy, you know, setting aside those "wasted" emotions like guilt and worry, those ravenous obsessions that grow to eat up the present if you'll let them. They're horrible party guests, alright, with a tendency to hang around long after their value as goads to improvement or precaution has passed.

I find guilt an easier one to wrangle out of my day-to-day life. I've had lots of practice in my half century on the planet with apologizing, making amends, and committing myself to being a better me going forward, which is all anyone can ever do. I've been a parent long enough now to know that those things about which I feel the sharpest blade of guilt, will not only be forgiven, but forgotten in the long love story that is being a father.

Ah, but guilt comes out of the past, a place already behind us, viewable through that famous 20/20 hindsight and therefore, for me at least, easier to package up and put away. Worry is about the unknowable future, the place we prepare for with, at best, educated guesses. It's harder to keep worry in its place. And as a parent, the moment you put one set of worries behind you, there is another set to keep you up at night.

As a preschool teacher I talk with a lot of parents about their worries. Almost every time I'm pulled aside it's to discuss hitting or biting or shyness or fearfulness or aggressiveness or passiveness or whatever, present tense attitudes or behaviors about which that parent is concerned. Of course, they're always concerned about "right now," about teaching their child to not hurt another or to make more friends, but it doesn't take much digging to know that the real worry is of a future bully or moody loner. This is the bud we hope to nip.

I felt those same feelings too. I worried about those same things too. I still worry about them, although not as much these days as I'm really beginning to see the woman my child is becoming. No, now I worry more about the well-known hazards of the age (drinking, sex, cars, guns) but I'm here to tell you that the person she is today could have easily been predicted a decade ago if my worries had only allowed me to see it.

Parents don't always find comfort in the assurance, "It's just a phase," I know. And perhaps that particular sentence ought to be retired, but for most of the kids, most of the time, it is just a phase, an important one from which your child is learning what he needs to learn to move beyond it or through it or to make peace with it. I know it's easy for me, not being a parent of these children, but rather just being an attentive guy who has stood in one place for a long time, touching and being touched by hundreds of families as they pass my way, to answer "I'm not worried," but it's also true.

The biting will stop. The hitting will fade away. The voiceless will find their voice. The rough will learn gentleness. The fearful will find courage. Your child will move on to the next developmental stage, be diagnosed, and learn to love and be loved. That is all, inevitably, in the future.

Who we are never matters nearly as much as who we are becoming. More often than not, that's how I have to answer parents when they come to me with their worries, "It's just a phase."

My wife and I have a joke we tell one another when the pressures of life are upon us: "This is the critical phase." It's always true; both in that it's critical and that it's a phase. It makes us laugh because we know when we look back, we'll see that it really was a phase, while the critical part will remain immediately ahead of us, there just begging to be worried about.

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Thursday, October 22, 2015

A Story Still Being Told

The Woodland Park Cooperative School is currently housed on the lower floor of the Fremont Baptist Church. Prior to that we occupied rooms in a different church. As much as I liked where we were and love where we are, both locations, as is the case with most preschools, are "make do" places, in that they are spaces originally intended for other purposes. In a very real sense, the quirks of those make-do spaces, the design, the architecture, invariably shaped the kind of school we were and are.

It was impossible for me to capture the full architectural impact of this school with my limited photography skills and and phone camera. For better photos, you might want to click around on the school's website.

Few of us will ever have the opportunity to start from scratch and create the preschool building of our dreams, one that perfectly accommodates all we want for the children we teach, that removes hazards while encouraging "just right" risky play, that serves their emotional, psychological, and physical needs, that has the flexibility to be used for all the things about which children can dream. I've often, in idle moments, wondered what my ideal school would look like. Not long ago, I even took a crack at writing some of it down, but reality for most of us is that we must more or less take our physical space for what it is, shaping it as we can, but allowing it to shape us as well.

These stairways represent the branches of a tree, connecting the general use areas with the upstairs homerooms.

While in Iceland last week as part of the Play Iceland conference, we had the opportunity to spend a day at a school called Krikaskóli (where I had my magical encounter with Icelandic fairies) that was indeed purpose-built for a specific school community. It was a project that began before the financial crisis of 2007 under the guidance of Principal Þrúður Hjelm. It was a time of great financial strain and it nearly sank the project, but such is the commitment of Icelanders to education that the resources were found and the building completed some three years ago.

Built in a flat suburban setting, the entire job site was dug down so that the two story building didn't block the views of current residents, which also creating a playground with grassy hills.

Viewed from this perspective the outdoor space may appear a bit sterile, and yes, those trees still have some growing to do, but when I got down in it, I found it far more "dirty," "used," and natural.

The school still feels brand new, sparkling. As Ms. Hjelm explained to us, the entire "house," as she warmly called it, was inspired by the metaphor of a tree, a school with roots in a play-based preschool model, with branches growing all the way up to what we in the States would call third grade. It is a mixture of homerooms created for the specific developmental needs of the various ages and open spaces designed to encourage them to mix together. 

This wall becomes a waterfall in the rain.

There are rooms for specific purposes, like physical fitness and music and carpentry, in which every detail has been thought through, right down to acoustics, storage, and "what else" the space could be used for. The three dressing areas, where children don their rain and cold weather gear, were each designed for the specific age groups they served, with drains in the floors and special cabinets for drying out wet clothing. The outdoor space was inspired by the mountain views and features a mixture of "traditional" and natural play elements. And like all Icelandic schools there was relatively little stuff.

This structure was designed to match perfectly with the large unit building blocks so that the children can built it out to suit their play purposes.

We were given free run of the place and I found myself in love with, and slightly envious of, the architecture of Krikaskóli. It was fascinating to be in the middle of a school community's vision for itself, but the longer we were there, the more aware I became that this was a project still in its infancy, that the advent of this building, this house, was only a marker on the journey that Ms. Hjelm and her community are on. It's a story still being told.

This space was created for music, with much thought given to acoustics, but is also used for block play.

While looking at the school's magnificent and well-equipped wood working space, I was struck by the lack of saw marks on the workbenches or paint splattered on the walls. On the playground I went searching for evidence of children having been there, and found it -- worn places in the grass, some small muddy holes where potions had been mixed, branches broken from the saplings that stood in for a forest -- but they were faint markings compared to the ones found, for instance, in our make-do space. Perhaps it's just that this is what I'm used to, preschools in need of a fresh coat of paint or new carpeting or a drop of oil on the squeaky door hinges, but I found myself wishing I could read the next chapter of the Krikaskóli story.

The dressing areas were reminiscent of something you would find a ski lodge. Those children waving at me were some of my Icelandic fairies.

Ms. Hjelm sat with us for a long lunch that featured an Icelandic dish that a Scottish Play Iceland colleague told me was "haggis," a dish I've long feared. (Again, like everywhere in Iceland, the children of all ages ate it without complaint. ) As we spoke over our long lunch together, she told the story leading up to this point, but it became clear that from her perspective the Krikaskóli story was still at its very beginning, confirming my feelings, and she was only just getting started. As she shared her vision with us, I found myself inspired, even if I didn't yet see all of it unfolding on the day we visited. Creating a great school is a long game, as this school's story is here to attest.   

Fire pits are common at Icelandic schools.

I've never had the opportunity to build a "house" from scratch, but our community recently found ourselves the beneficiary of one of our smaller dreams coming true: our community greenhouse, where we hope to be able to grow food with our children year-round. Architecturally, it's everything we wanted, but here we are a month an a half into the new school year and we've barely used it. Oh sure, adults are in and out all the time, and we have plants flourishing in there, and yes, there are still some outdoor things we've needed to complete, including a few safety additions, but there is a definite tentativeness as well. It's as if we're afraid to get metaphorical paint on the walls. There is no doubt that getting everything one wants comes with the pressure of now making it work.

It's normal, of course. In a very real sense, as posited by the Reggio Emilia pedagogy, our environment is a colleague, the "third teacher," and there needs to be a feeling out period in the beginning, just as there would be with a flesh and blood colleague. This is where I think we found the Krikaskóli community. And as wonderful as the school is today, I told Ms. Hjelm I hoped to revisit the school in five years time, when there would be "some paint on the walls." She laughed and invited me to do just that.

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