Tuesday, May 09, 2017

So Overwhelming Was Their Love

There are few things more fun, I guess, than shoving a toy T-Rex toward a friend and roaring. Among those few things is several friends holding toy T-Rexs, shoving, roaring, shrieking in mock horror, and either running away or chasing as one's personality dictates.

This was what a handful of three and four-year-olds where exploring yesterday morning. The challenge, of course, was that these same kids, only a few months ago agreed to the classroom rules, "No running inside" (a rule agreed upon when a pair of these very kids ran headlong into one another while rounding a blind corner) and "No yelling inside" (a rule agree upon in the aftermath of one classmate discovering the high pitched squeal). These are rules that emerged from the children and that were agreed upon, by consensus, earlier in the year. As the de facto executive charge with carrying out their legislative intent, I was regularly saying things like, "I want to remind you that you all agreed no running inside," and "That was loud. Remember, we all agreed no yelling indoors."

Each time I spoke with the kids they looked toward the list of rules we've posted on the wall. They aren't reading yet, of course, but they treat those rules as sacred documents, which they are, often referring to them among themselves. Then for several minutes they roared more softly and ran in slow motion. It tended to stick for about 10 minutes before they required another reminder.

Next year, as four and five year olds, these kids will start their school days outdoors on our state-of-the-art playground, but for now they spend their first hour or so inside, before going outside for the second part of their day together. This is the way we've always done it with this class, which I know isn't necessarily a good reason for continuing to do something. It's a morning class and the thought is to be inside during the coldest, darkest part of the day, especially during the winter months, then bust outside as things warm up a little. I've rarely had cause to reconsider this schedule, but yesterday I realized that it may be time for a change.

The reason the older kids start outdoors, aside from the fact that they're a class with an afternoon starting time and weather conditions tend to be as good as they're going to get, is that I long ago discovered that this is the age at which children have generally turned fully toward one another. Indeed, if the two and three-year-olds orient toward the stuff, the songs, and Teacher Tom (and the other adults), four and five-olds come to school for one reason and one reason only: to play with other four and five-year-olds. They often ignore me as they arrive; there are hugs, squeals, impromptu sprints, and even wrestling as they arrive. No one loves another person more than four and five-year-olds and each meeting, each day, is like a reunion of long lost lovers. The rest of the world recedes as they greet one another with the fullness of their beings, a daily inspiration to me. It would be like pushing water uphill to force them into indoor behavior, even behavior to which they've all agreed, during what I sometimes refer to as our "convening time." There are no planned activities or invitations. I tend to sit on the sidelines, perhaps calling out a greeting as they pass through the gate, but that's about it because there simply is nothing else for me to do until they've sufficiently said "Hello," which takes a minimum of 30 minutes, but usually longer.

Yesterday morning as I once again reminded the kids of their sacred agreements, I realized that a critical mass of our younger class had reached this developmental stage of loving one's friends to the point of bursting. It makes sense, of course, most of them are four by now. Those roaring dinosaurs are simply a way of greeting one another after the too long separation of a night or a weekend. We only have two more weeks of school, so I'm unlikely to change up their established routine at this point, but looking back I can see that they've been "requesting" an outdoor convening time since at least our Spring Break. This is an insight that will cause me to flip-flop the schedule after Spring Break in future years.

Yesterday afternoon, one of our older boys arrived about an hour late, getting there just as we were heading indoors. As the rest of kids raised their hands and shared their stories, he wrestled with a buddy who he had not seen for more than a week. It was literally impossible for them to keep their hands off one another, so overwhelming was their love for one another, so strong their need to reconnect after all that time.

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