Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Full-Body Learning

On the first day of school he told me, "There's going to be a lot of fighting this year." It was an interesting comment, funny even, coming from this particular boy. I've known him since he was a two-year-old and he had never shown any inclination toward violence, real or imaginary. On the contrary, tough guy bluster, even of the comical variety, had in the past often seemed to intimidate and confuse him; he was regularly reduced to tears by dramatic play that struck him as threatening, often retreating under our classroom loft for "safety."

Jousting with swings standing in for steeds

His mother explained that he had over the summer become fascinated with knights, including their armor, shields, and other weaponry, items he had taught himself to create using paper, scissors, tape, and staples. And that is how his "fighting" first showed up in the classroom, with him not only arming himself, but also others. He has mastered the fierce pose and when he finds another kid inclined toward "fighting," he might threaten something like, "You better watch out, I'm going to fight you." The fighting itself has been quite tame by the standards of Woodland Park play fighting, most often involving "swords," but sometimes featuring "jousting." He is clearly thrilled when someone engages with him, although the moment actual contact is made, even when it's of the light and incidental variety, he usually calls it off, often crying loudly. But once the tears are over, he's back at it, once more trying to lure others into his game of fighting knights.

This knight has been unseated

I hope this description doesn't make him seem like a problem child in any way, because he is not. No one who knows him is worried that he'll grow up to be actually violent. This is clearly an intellectual pursuit, one full of questions to which he is seeking answers. Even now, months into our school year, there is still obvious uncertainty as he approaches others with his knight game, as he tests the others to see how they will respond. He's been delighted by his successes: his face flushes with excitement when it's going as he expected, combatants committed to both ferocity and a kind of chivalry that includes not really hurting one another. He's been overwhelmed when others have surpassed him in intensity or more extreme physicality. He's been often disappointed by those who are neither impressed, nor attracted by this knight who is threaten-asking them to fight with him. He has made his knight studies at home as a self-selected "academic" pursuit and is now attempting to apply what he has learned in real life.

One of his classmates does a similar thing with his own animal studies. Earlier in the year, he could be found prowling the playground as a dinosaur, usually as a T-rex, his favorite, roaring and stalking about with his arms draw up to mimic the short forearms associated with the species. Lately, his interests have turned to invertebrates, like his pet snails, but also slugs, worms, and insects. The other day, he put shoes on his hands so that he could practice moving like an insect, developing a fuller understanding of how they crawl by studying it with his whole body, in the same way that my knight-loving friend seeks to embody a knight in order to more fully understand.

Neither of these boys would be described as particularly physical, at least not in comparison to many of their classmates who spend their days racing around the place. In fact, I'm quite certain that if their parents send them to traditional public kindergartens next year, they will adapt to desk work better than most. They won't show up as "problem children" because they possess the sort of self-control and temperaments that will allow them to adapt more easily than will those "active" kids whose teachers will chase them around the classroom, scolding, punishing, and otherwise correcting them for moving their bodies at the wrong time and in the wrong way, perhaps even going so far as to recommend drugs.

It's a pity because it's clear that all children, even not obviously active ones, learn most naturally when allowed to engage their full selves, including their bodies, not in adult-proscribed ways and at adult-proscribed times, but as their own questioning and exploration dictates. Traditional schools are notoriously bad at allowing this because so much of what happens in them is about crowd control rather than learning. We can't have knights and insects anywhere but in the form of words, read or listened to, then regurgitated in their approved form, with bodies in their proper places, doing their proper things. It's a pity because all children learn best when allowed to explore with their full-selves, teaching themselves. And they must use their full bodies to do it.

I've just published a book! If you are interested in ordering Teacher Tom's First Book, click here. Thank you!

I put a lot of time and effort into this blog. If you'd like to support me please consider a small contribution to the cause. Thank you!
Bookmark and Share

No comments: