Well, week one is safely behind us. There were some tears, some tantrums, and some temple massages (that would be me) but there were lots of interesting threads that might actually turn into something really exciting. Carol Ann Wein (2008) writes in her book Emergent Curriculum in the Primary Classroom: Interpreting the Reggio Emilia Approach in Schools:
When we attempt emergent curriculum in classrooms, we immediately find it is more difficult than we expected; it doesn’t happen just because we want it to. It is more troubling, uncertain, anxiety-producing. But then we notice that we feel fully alive, bursting with higher, positive energy that feels like life itself. It traditional teaching can feel like a rehearsal – like waiting to live one’s life – both for children and teachers, then emergent curriculum is living life at full throttle. Teachers say it is so exciting that it is like being on vacation every day, or so exciting you can taste it when you enter a classroom. (p.13)
I really felt that this week. I felt like a detective, a sleuth, trying to sneak up on the kids so that I could eavesdrop on their play without disturbing them. It was exciting and challenging. I often find the minutiae of school difficult to handle: the paperwork, the twice-a-day attendance, the fundraising campaigns, the pizza orders (the humanity!)… it gets me down. It seems like there’s so little time to think, to reflect, to do the real business of investigating with kids and, you know, teaching. But this week felt different. I felt more alive to the possibilities, more awake to the magic that was happening in their play and more in charge of how much of the marginalia I allowed to enter our little universe. There were moments when it felt – dare I say it – sacred.
Some of the threads that emerged from the week…
The children were also very interested in rocks and got very involved in sorting them later in the week. At one point they were using them as currency in their game.
I moved a lot of furniture this week. I now have bruises on my thighs that would cause people to sneer at my husband, all due to balancing tables on my legs as I heffed them around the classroom, trying to figure out some optimal location that probably doesn’t exist. But, it did get better… as I hope you can see in the pictures. What took the most time was removing stuff, much of it ancient, from the classroom. Classrooms have a unique physiology, they attract stuff the way large planets do. Each teacher brings in her own stuff and leaves a few items behind, the school board buys supplies, parents donate toys, and it all piles up. Resources are often scarce so we’re always afraid to throw things away: “If I get rid of this 30-year old toy kitchen, what will the children play with?”. So, step one was to decide what I didn’t want. You can see in the pictures that I have a lot of empty shelves; that’s not how the week began.
What I edited:
two toy farms
a huge metal teacher’s desk
30-year old toy kitchen, including plastic food
toy fire station
many, many books that had seen better days
lots of plastic bins
lots and LOTS of plastic manipulatives and miscellaneous toys
pine cones, rocks, shells, wooden and wicker balls
portable light table
At one point on Friday, the custodian came in and commented: “It looks more like a house than a classroom.” I thought that was a fascinating comment. Why would we want our classrooms to look different from our homes? Why would we have objects and colours in our classrooms that we wouldn’t have in our homes? I think that most people would find the parade of primary colours on display in most elementary classrooms pretty jarring – red, yellow AND blue paint in your living room… anyone? We shouldn’t be surprised when children are overstimulated by them.
My own four-year old also had an interesting comment: “Where are all the toys, Mommy?”, he asked. He walked around the classroom, a little bereft for a while, looking in vain for a fire engine or a doll house. After a few minutes, though, he asked for paper and grabbed some crayons, then he got very engaged in using a stamp pad and stamps, moved on to the blocks, inspected the rocks, then had a ride on the rocking horse. It was interesting to observe him as he re-framed his own definition of “classroom” and found ways to engage with the materials. He has wonderful independent play skills and will quite happily play with pine cones or rocks at home but at school (or daycare) he expects ‘toys’. I’ll be very interested to see how my students handle the environment next week. I’ll keep you posted.