Tuesday, February 16, 2016


Together we're a genius. ~Six Feet Under

When I was a sophomore in college, five of us friends from the freshman dorms decided to live together in a two bedroom apartment. Not only that, but we had a food plan. Once a week, on Sunday at midnight, we would go together to the supermarket, chip in $20 each, and buy the week's groceries. This included the ingredients for "house dinners." These dinners were to take place Monday through Thursday evenings and were to be cooked by us, for us, on a rotating basis, and had to include at least one serving from each of the food groups, plus dessert. Furthermore, we determined that we were only going to be permitted to prepare a "cheat meal" (frozen pizza, pasta and jarred sauce, etc.) once a term, which meant that we all arrived at the start of the year with our families' best recipes at the ready. 

This Seahawks colored nail polish was a "sharing item" brought by one of the kids prior to the final game of the season. The team notoriously motivates itself by trying to "make the doubters wrong."

When we told others about our plan, they mocked us. Our parents doubted we would pull it off. No one thought the food plan would last more than a few weeks, but damn it, we stuck with the program for a full school year, none of us ever missing a shopping trip, a meal, or a turn in the rotation for cooking or cleaning. We were both proud and defiant, especially as the year progressed and our tormenters' predictions of disaster failed to materialize. We often delighted in recalling each and every dinner we had eaten together, many of which had nicknames like, "Rhino Burger Night," and "Deep Dish Dog Food," boasting of our triumphs and ridiculing our failures. And in our reflective moments we grudgingly thanked the naysayers, acknowledging that it was their doubt that had unified us.

Much to my chagrin, "show-and-tell" continues to not just exist, but thrive in our 4-5's class. I am not a fan of show-and-tell, but I am a fan of child-lead activities and this is clearly one of those. In the beginning, when they first hatched their plans for show-and-tell during a circle time discussion early in the year, I told them I thought it was a bad idea, that they would be bored, that they wouldn't want to politely listen to their friends talk about their toys, but I was unpersuasive, and so we have show-and-tell daily. It's evolved, of course. It only took the kids a few weeks to realize that they really didn't have the collective capacity to accommodate dozens of show-and-tell items every day, so they came up with a plan for limiting themselves to just one per week (we're a cooperative, so "only on your parent's work day"), but still, there will be 4-6 items to be presented every day.

I do what I can to make it work, of course, to honor their intentions. For instance, in the interest of keeping it short and sweet, I don't usually ask a lot of questions, instead encouraging the child to name the item, say what she wants us to know, then ask, "Is it a sharing item or is it too special?" A "sharing item," as opposed to a mere show-and-tell item, is one that will be made available for everyone to play with. Most often, the children decide it's a sharing item, so I ask, "Where will you put it so we can find it?" and most chose to put it in the loft, sometimes with caveats like, "And it has to stay in the loft" or "Don't break it" or "I also want to share it when we go outside."

At least once a week, I make a show of my doubts about show-and-tell, repeating my concerns that they will become bored or behave impolitely. It has become a sort of call-and-response ritual in which the children then insist that they won't become bored and will continue to be polite and then proceed to attentively sit and listen to their friends much in the way we sophomore boys doggedly stuck to our house meal regime in defiance of the doubters and even when we might have wanted to be doing something else.

By now, I've become invested in the continued success of show-and-tell, although I don't let them know it even as I seek to support them. Of course, they get bored at times. When a child starts showing the signs of boredom during show-and-tell (goofing off and squirreling around) I've found that all I have to say to help him refocus is, "Oh, you're getting bored. I though that might happen." And, of course, they aren't always polite. When a child makes a disparaging remark about a classmate's item, I just say, "That's rude, I thought that might happen," and the disparaged classmate is showered with compliments from the rest of the class -- "I like it!" "I think it's cool!" "That's awesome!" -- It's so intense that the original critic almost always takes it back and joins the chorus.

As a teacher and parent who has how spent decades in cooperative schools, I've had a lot of experience in community dynamics. There is nothing that pulls us together, children or adults, more effectively than outsiders saying, "You can't." Doubters can grind down an individual -- it tragically happens all the time -- but when we're in it together, man, we humans succeed not just despite your doubt, but because of it. Together we are indeed a genius.

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1 comment:

Barbara Zaborowski said...

Early in my career I heard Bev Bos describe show-and-tell as "bring and brag." Then my son's kindergarten teacher allowed show-and-tell but said "No toys." That's what I've adopted. Show-and-tell is allowed on your assigned day once a week, but no toys permitted. We've had dad's old football trophies, a dead praying mantis, and one kid who brought in and performed a science experiment! Some kids just pull scraps of old art projects out of their cubbies. If they want to talk about them, I'm fine with that. We also have, as an alternative, a question jar with very open-ended questions, like "If you were a teacher, how would you make your class quiet down?" We also allow telling a joke and,if they do bring a toy, our rule is that it stays in your cubby and you can tell us about it.