Monday, April 30, 2018

This Is True Every Time We Do Things Together

In every community of children with whom I've been associated, there are always at least one or two who are driven to engage the world through constructive play. I'm not saying it's the only way they go about asking and answering their own question, but when I want to find them I usually look first where something is being built. This year, however, we have more than just a few builders in our 4-5's class. Everywhere I look there is a fort or a nest or a house or a something or other being constructed from the junk we keep around the place.

"Our house"

I've written a couple times this year about our "bad guy trap" (here, here, and here, for instance) a by now semi-permanent installation on our playground, a large and elaborate structure that is being continually re-built and re-modeled, mostly by a pair of children, but increasingly by a team working together. This has been the epicenter of our building boom.

"Bad guy trap"

As I walked around the playground last week, I counted more than a half dozen major construction projects under way, collaborative efforts that in many ways reflect our city of Seattle which has been booming under a skyline of tower cranes these past few years. Maybe that's what has inspired these children to build. Most of them have never known a time when their home town wasn't tearing down and building up. It's part of who we are: people who build, and the children are simply, through their play, preparing as children always do, for their future.

Structure of unknown purpose

Often it starts with just one or two kids, but as they get to work, others are drawn in, first observing, then asking questions, trying to understand the "story" of this interesting thing they see happening, much the way they do when we stop while out on field trips to watch actual construction sites around the school. And there is always a story being told when people come together to create something that is too big for one person to do on their own. If nothing else, humans are driven to be a part of the story of "us."

"Evil volcano"

Everywhere I turn, I see these children huddled together, striving together, creating together, talking, talking, talking, each of them contributing to their story, a collaborative construction in its own right.

"Christmas tree"

A few weeks ago, I took a self tour of one end of a major Seattle construction project, one that involved building the world's largest underground boring machine, Bertha, to create a new underground roadway along the waterfront. As I tried to make sense of how it was ultimately going to resurface onto Aurora Avenue, a man in a hardhat approached me, eager to answer my questions, and if I had none, to simply share with me what it was about being a part of this major undertaking that inspired him. As I listened, I couldn't help but reflect on the fact that this is exactly what the children do when I stop to admire their work. "Teacher Tom, this is our house!" "This is our Christmas tree!" "This is our volcano!" And then they go on to tell me the story of what they have done and what they are going to do, just as this excited engineer did.


These are the physical manifestations of the story we are telling about ourselves. They include our collective dreams, our hopes, and our fears, much the way ancient myths do. This is true every time we do things together.

"My home"

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