Wednesday, December 13, 2017

I Could Write Volumes, But That Would That Would Be Total BS

It wasn't until mid-morning that I noticed the box, there on the table just inside the gate to our playground. Someone had written "Junk (& Debris)" on the side. I figured it was something Teacher Rachel had cooked up for the kindergarten class so left it there. Later when I asked her about it, she told me it had been there when she had arrived and also that it said, "Danger" and "Caution" on it as well. Upon further investigation, I found that the mystery box-leaver had also written "Loose Parts" in large bubble letters. I still didn't know who had left the box (although I have my suspicions which I hope to confirm later today) but it had clearly come from someone who "got it."

After checking to make sure that the box was not, in fact, full of danger, I re-taped the top and took it indoors to unwrap properly during circle time.

I told the kids how I'd found the box and we speculated about what might be inside. A few of them squinted at the words, trying to sound them out. One of the girls got "Junk!" but the ampersand and the non-phonetic spelling of "Debris" stumped them so I read that for them, "Junk and debris," explaining that debris was basically another word for junk. We also sussed out the warning words, which lead us to wonder if the box might be full of dynamite or poisonous spiders. Finally, we read the phrase "Loose Parts" which meant nothing to us. Several of the kids scooted themselves away from me as I made a show of opening the box, heeding the warnings.

Inside, where items worthy of the label "loose parts." There were a couple different kids of wood off-cuts, a bag full of some sort of metal clips, a box of glass mason jar lids with their orange rubber seals, a large stack of yellow styrofoam trays like they use in the meat departments of supermarkets, and several dozen tubs that might have once contained some sort of yoghurt. As we went through the items I said things like, "I wonder what we could use these for," which, of course, prompted the children to offer their ideas. The wood, they thought, could be used to build our treehouse, for instance. When I pointed out that the containers I had originally thought to be for yoghurt had tiny holes in the bottom, something that disappointed me a bit because it limited their versatility, one of the kids immediately suggested that they would be perfect for planting seeds in the spring. Brilliant!

Stupidly, I then began to pack everything away again, striving to be as tidy as our benefactor, only to have several of the children object: "Why don't we play with everything now?" "Just put them on the checkerboard rug instead of blocks," "We could build some good bad guy traps with those," and "We should also have some animals to play with them." So I got out a box of small "critters" and that's what we did.

I could write volumes about what I saw happening as the children played with these random materials and speculate about what they were learning, but in all honesty, that would be total BS on my part. The truth is that I have no more idea about what they were learning from their play than the children did about what was in the box before we opened it. I could have spent my time grilling them about what they were building, creating, discussing, and pretending with an eye toward somehow gaining a better understanding of what was going on in their heads, compelling them to focus on my curiosity rather than their own. I could, I suppose, have pre-tested them prior to opening the box, then re-tested them after playing with the junk, but what would be the point? I don't need to know what they are learning, only they do. It's none of my business what they learn as they play.

So I just left them alone, secure in the knowledge that they were attempting to teach themselves what they most, in that moment, wanted to know, following their own interests and passions. That's enough. Any more than that is BS.

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