During lunchtime last year, I would occasionally tell the 8-9s stories about the early days of MCS. Usually they were stories involving animals – pets I remember from school or animals at the Farm. Funny stories were clearly preferred ones. I began to run out of animal stories so, at their request, I would tell them again. Without directly saying so, I am sure I was communicating to them that MCS was one of my special places growing up.
Last week these same children, the ones I cannot get used to calling 9-10s, were busy making maps of their special places:
My room with my workspace
My grandparents’ backyard
The camp cabin that I loved
A Victorian garden
My special dock
My bedroom, also known as my corner, with my Venus flytrap
Children easily recalled summer days while simultaneously enjoying all being together at the start of the school year. Indeed, these are just the first few days of school, especially for the youngest classes. It takes time for the routines of each classroom to be practiced and learned. It takes even more time for children to get to know new classmates and teachers, and for the group to learn to work together.
Stories told or read aloud help to build the formation of classroom communities and stories of all kinds inspire wonderful discussions in classrooms of all ages. Sharing stories will remain a treasured routine all year long.
Recently, the 8-9s listened to The Dot, a story that tells how a child’s creativity is gently encouraged by her teacher.
"Just make a mark and see where it takes you,” offered the teacher.
The 8-9s were asked to think about something they would like to improve or accomplish this year:
To read longer books
To become a better artist
To make another series of comic books at school
To get better at listening to my teachers
To do better at math
Telling the time (this one was made in the design of a clock)
To work on multiplication and football
Focus more on school when I’m at school and focus more on family and friends when I’m home
The 6-7s read Amazing Grace last week. It begins like this:
Grace was a girl who loved stories.
She didn’t mind if they were read to her or told to her
Or made up in her own head.
Grace just loved stories.
After listening to the story the 6-7s had much to say:
“That was a wonderful book.”
“A girl can be a boy and a boy can be a girl. And you can be brown and be Peter Pan.”
“A boy can be a boy and a girl can be a girl.”
“You can choose to be both.”
“You get to choose who you are, but don’t choose to do bad things and go to jail. Be a good person.”
“Sometimes when you do good things, good things will come back to you.”
The 4-5s heard the story, William’s Doll. Toward the end, the grandmother gets a doll for William.
But his father was upset.
“He’s a boy!” he said to William’s grandmother.
“He has a basketball and an electric train
and a workbench to build things with.
Why does he need a doll?”
William’s grandmother smiled.
“He needs it,” she said,
“to hug and to cradle
and to take to the park
when he’s a father like you,
he’ll know how to take care of his baby
and feed him and love him and bring him the things he wants,
like a doll
so that he can practice being a father.”
The 4-5s enjoyed discussing the story:
“A boy can have a doll if he wants one.”
“Anyone can play with a doll.”
“Anyone can wear any color they want to.”
“I am practicing to be a Mom.”
“I am pretending to be a Mom, too, and now I am a really little one.”
The 4-5s listened to another story, Play with Me. In the story, the girl tries to catch the animals, but each time they rush away. Finally she sits quietly and patiently by the pond, and slowly the animals start coming back.
Teachers asked the 4-5s why they thought the animals were returning. A child answered, “because she's just chillin’.”
During the 8-9s’ first science class with Ian, they are invited to offer up how it felt to listen to the singing bowl:
“It felt calm and nice.”
“I could hear it for a long time after you stopped.”
“My mom has a singing bowl and she prays.”
Next, they come up with agreements for the class. Ian explains he likes to call them agreements rather than rules, so that they all agree on ways to create an environment where everyone feels safe and comfortable.
One child offers an agreement: “Don’t distract people.”
“Ok, great,” says Ian. “Now can you change that sentence around so we are not using the word don’t?”
Allow people to concentrate becomes the first agreement.
Use the materials in a safe way becomes the second.
Be aware of your surroundings becomes the third.
Listen to the singing bowl and pay attention becomes the fourth.
Respect other people’s ideas and keep the laughter inside if you are tempted to laugh at what someone says. This becomes the final agreement.
Many classes work on writing up class agreements, or contracts. Here is another example so far:
How Do Community Members Take Care of Each Other?
By helping each other
If a friend gets hurt or is sad, be a good friend and help them
Help them when they are scared
Help them tie their shoe
Listen to each other
Use nice words
Include each other
Children in the 5-6s were asked to draw a picture about what they wanted to be able to do in the 5-6s this year:
To work with other kids and build things
To have fun in art
To run in the park
To learn about gardening
To help the teachers and be nice to friends
To be able to make a big party in the 5-6s, because it is really fun to have parties and also to get exercising
To have fun and learn to take care of my class, and to take care of my teachers, too
To get better at talking to new people and not pretending that I am shy
A new 5-6s child had this to say when I asked whether she was enjoying school so far:
“My Mom picked out the perfect school.”
On Friday afternoon, the 9-10s had a language arts time with Chloe and Qing that began in the art room. Later, they went outdoors to the courtyard space as they investigated the plants and created sentences using various parts of speech to describe the various herbs.
“The citronella is WAY spicy!”
“Did you know you can eat nasturtium plants?”
“The lemon verbena is my favorite. I rub it between my fingers, and I could smell it all day!”
“Look – chamomile grows tall like this with these little flowers. We can make tea out of it.”
“The lavender is beautiful. I love the smell. I made a perfume with lavender and honey and other herbs.”
On the second day of school a 7-8s’ teacher read Wemberly Worried to the class.
Wemberly worried in the morning.
She worried at night.
And she worried throughout the day.
The 7-8s were asked to reflect on their feelings about the start of a new school year:
“I was nervous to meet the new people.”
“I was worried about new teachers.”
“I thought I would be the littlest, but I am not worried about that now.”
“I didn’t know if I would be able to do the homework.”
“I didn’t know if things would be too hard for me, and I worried about the pencils not being sharpened.”
“I didn’t know if I was going to like this new school.”
“I thought there would be a bathroom inside the classroom.”
“I thought there might not be enough chairs or Legos.”
“I worried that the classroom would not be ready this year and also that everyone would forget how to spell my name.”
While adults worry about the state of the world for countless reasons, young children’s lives are often focused on the here and now, understandably.
During one of the first days of school, the 7-8s found an injured bird at the park and they called the Wild Bird Fund nearby to notify them. Of course, it helped that the children knew so much about birds and this neighborhood resource from their bird study last year.
In time, children and teachers will think about more ways to take action in manners that suit children’s developmental stages. In the meantime, children will continue to spend their days exploring, discovering, listening, asking questions, finding solutions, and working together.
At all ages, an important message that children will receive again and again is that they will know they can express their viewpoints and they will be asked to listen to the viewpoints of others. In doing so as a class each year, they will learn about and discuss issues that have particular meaning for them, and ones that begin to broaden their scope of understanding about their community and the world around them.
And, over their time here, they will be making their mark and seeing where it takes them – individually and as a group.
This talk was given at the September 18, 2107 Parents' Association Meeting.