Thursday, September 28, 2017


The four and five year olds are working hard here at the beginning of the school year, striving to figure out who we are going to be as a community. Our list of agreements, our self-created rules, is already quite long. We've agreed, for instance, to not hit one another and to not snatch things from other people, essentials, I think for any society in which I would choose to live.

There has been a lot of legislation about throwing things. Indeed, we have already banned the throwing of wood chips, sand, rocks, sticks, toys, and "anything that's hard." We've specified, in particular, that these things not be thrown at faces, heads, or eyes. Some of these agreements come straight out of experience, but most derive, thankfully, from extrapolation or mental experiments. 

We're also learning that agreeing to rules doesn't necessarily mean everyone will always abide by them. We coach the children to stand up for themselves, to say, "Stop!" when someone is harming or frightening them, and it comes naturally for some kids, while others either forget in the heat of the moment or feel intimidated. These children will have plenty of opportunity to practice, however, as we steer our way through the long school year. The ultimate goal, one that we will always be working toward, but never fully attain, is a truly self-governing community, one in which the children know to remind one another about their agreements. I expect we'll come closer to that ideal than many adult communities, but for now they still need, or at least think they need, quite a bit of adult support when conflict arises.

Yesterday, at least a dozen kids approached me at different times to report rule violations by this or that child. Most of the time, especially when they didn't appear particularly emotional, I simply sent them back into the fray with my best advice, which most of the time is to say something like, "You pushed me. I didn't like that," or "You threw sand in my hair!"

One boy, in particular, was having a tough time of it. At least a half dozen kids reported minor rule violations on his part within a matter of minutes, so I had a one-on-one chat with him, reminding him of the agreements he had made, telling him what the other children had said to me, asking if there was anything I could do to help him remember his agreements. He seemed concerned and contrite.

Later in the day, he threw an old watering can and it hit the ground with such force that it broke into pieces. It was one of those moments when everything around him grew silent. I stepped in, saying, "You broke the watering can." His face was ashen. He said, "I forgot," and without prompting began to pick up the pieces, collecting them on his lap. I then said more than I should have, "We all agreed, no throwing hard things. You threw a hard thing and it broke."

He said, "I'll fix it," to which I replied, "We can't fix broken plastic, but you can throw it away."

"I will." As he gathered the rest of the pieces, I could tell he was fighting down tears. I helped him gather the remaining bits, saying things like, "You didn't mean to break it." As he ran down the hill toward the garbage can he began to cry, hard, tears of genuine and painful remorse. He felt awful and I did too. My tone had been harsher than I would have liked, my words too many. He ran into the playhouse and threw himself into a corner, bawling. I followed him, saying, "It's alright," but he didn't want me there, "Go away!"

I asked a parent-teacher to sit with him in case he needed an adult. It was near the end of the day so the rest of us went inside to read our story, while he remained outside with his remorse. He was not alone, but I expect he felt that way. The parent who sat with him said that he had spoken aloud to himself, processing what had happened, bemoaning the broken watering can and other things.

I could have handled it better. I went home feeling my own remorse and I will return today committed to doing better. I expect that's true for him as well.

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