Monday, October 24, 2022

"It's Always Fun Here!"

I was sitting out of the way learning what I could from observing the children as they played. It was a wild game of throwing balls at one another, while the teacher occasionally called out words in Icelandic. I was trying to determine whether his words were ones of encouragement, instruction, correction, or scorekeeping when a girl I'd never seen before emerged from an adjoining room, locked eyes with me, and said, in English, "It's always fun here!"

I'd only just arrived, but word had apparently already reached her that the school was hosting visitors from abroad. She said, "Come with me!"

As I followed her into a space where she proudly showed me the "home" she and her friends were building from gym matts, fabric, blocks, and whatever else came to hand, my new friend plunged back into her play. Had she specifically interrupted her game to come out to fetch me? She hadn't been sent out by an adult as I was the only adult in the room. Had it been an accident? Had she simply fled the room momentarily, hurled there by the momentum of their collective play, and had been as surprised to see me as I had been to seen her? Whatever the case, I was filled with the words she had said to me: "It's always fun here!"

It was a greeting of genius, an invitation and introduction, both to herself and this place where, she told me, she has been coming for six years, since she was two-years-old. In English, she had said, "It's always fun here!" If the goal is inclusion, of invitation into friendship, then these words were far superior to the "Pleased to meet you," or "Hello, my name is Inge" that we so often coach children into saying when meeting strangers.

This is how humans are meant to welcome one another. At least that is what I was thinking as I stayed there, wrapped in this embrace of genuine welcome.

I was later in the woods with some three year olds. While most of the children clutched together in their play, one boy hovered around the edges, sometimes watching the others, sometimes seeming to ignore them in favor of his own pursuits. Was he looking for a way to enter into their play or was he opting out?

At one point a group of children bearing sticks begin to use them to interact with a cold grill, poking at the ashes, lifting the gratings, banging the sides. He watched them for a bit, then wandered off into the trees where he came upon the largest stick of them all, a branch that had broken off, I presume, in one of Iceland's legendary windstorms. After contemplating it for a moment, he lifted one end, struggling to do so. Then slowly he began to walk, dragging it behind him, heading away from where the other children were playing. 

He dragged his stick over roots and rocks, winding through the trunks of trees, challenges that were nearly too much for him. I wondered where he might be taking his branch. I had noticed a small stream some ways off. Maybe he was planning to toss it into the water. Then I noticed another solitary child pacing about amidst the trees. As he passed this child, without words, she bent to take up half his burden. Moments later they passed by where I sat, moving easily now, each carrying one end of the branch back toward the grill where the others played.

I understand why parents urged their children to greet me in the morning, "Say good morning to Teacher Tom," but I would always respond, "Oh, she's already said good morning." It would confuse the parents who hadn't heard any words, but that's because their greeting had been of the superior sort: a shy smile, a little wave, or something akin to dragging a stick through the woods or declaring "It's always fun here!" Gestures that are more than greetings, that say this is me and this is how I want to play with you.


"I recommend these books to everyone concerned with children and the future of humanity." ~Peter Gray, Ph.D. If you want to see what Dr. Gray is talking about you can find Teacher Tom's First Book and Teacher Tom's Second Book right here

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