Kids are fascinating creatures.  They are perplexing and curious, bewildering and bewitching.  Frequently, when I document a conversation or an event, I look back at it and think: “What was that all about?”  It’s often not immediately clear; it may never be clear.

Yesterday, when we went into the greenspace, N.I. perched himself in the little rock alcove that they’ve all decided is their chair.


M.P. said: “It’s the chair of high-y-nest.”

I thought at first he meant “highness” – like a throne for a king.

But when I asked him what he meant he told me “it’s because the rocks are high.”

Oh… okay.

Then, as we continued our walk, the children started to push their way through a dense patch of bush near the back of the property.  They said to each other: ” We’re going to the camp high-y-nest in the high-y-nest city.”

On our way to high-y-nest camp
On our way to high-y-nest camp

I’m standing there thinking: “Like hyenas? Does this have something to do with Africa? The Jungle?”

Then we got to the edge of the bush and a white dog dashed out and started barking at us.  His exuberance was met with a solemn: “Look, Madame, we found a high-y-nest dog.”

Of course you did.

high y nest dog

At this point, I probably looked a lot like a confused dog with my head cocked to one side and a perplexed look on my face.

Now, if there’s one thing that I wish I could change about school in the interest of furthering inquiry, it would be to remove the schedule.  I wish we could eat when we’re hungry, go outside when we like, and stay out as long as we want.  But, that’s not the reality of busing and contracts and bells.  Part of my perplexedness (it’s really a word – I checked) is because I can’t always stay with something as long as I would like to, as long as the kids probably needed to in order to develop this high-y-nest narrative to the point where it might have made sense to me (maybe it never would).  It was time to go in so we trooped back towards the school, with the world of high-y-nest remaining mysteriously elusive, at least for the adult among us.

PS: If you ever want to read a great story about ditching the schedule (and more), check out William Ayers’ To Teach: The Journey of a Teacher – fabulous book.


I just used my imagination…

Where do ideas come from?

While A-frames were a popular building style in the 1960s and 70s, most children aren’t familiar with them.

And yet SN built one.

a-frame house built with cardboard

Where did she get the idea?

She says: “I just used my imagination. It was a little bit easy to build cause you could grab the two squares and put them together and then make a box around it.”

In her reflection, she captures the ease of building that made A-frames so popular 40 years ago.

When I was at Bennington College in the late 90s, the college had recently undergone a process known as Symposium.  This re-thinking of college life had seen the elimination of Art History as a discipline and the re-evaluation of the reasons for teaching the history of art.  In my own dance classes, Dance History was taught as a required, but not-for-credit, section of a dancer’s course work.  The rationale we were given at the time was that we were there to make dance history, not to read about it.

What interested me as I moved out into the world was the ways that we, knowingly or not, make and re-make the histories of whatever discipline we are working in.  Often what children make, whether they are building or dancing, reflects the history of the form.  As in the development of concert dance, children will often make narrative dance/dramas before they are ready to venture into abstraction and post-modern chance dances of pure movement.  We are seeing the same kinds of explorations in our Architecture inquiry, as children are drawn first towards the forms that they are familiar with (square and rectangular boxes, with flat and pitched roofs, then towards forms that are different but easy to build and next… who knows?

Michael Lee Chin Crystal

We can’t wait to find out.


In praise of simple toys.

We’re into week 3 of the school year.  Friendships are being forged, routines established, and materials explored.  As I’ve watched the children explore the room over the past few weeks, I’ve been reminded of the value of simple toys.  Because I teach kindergarten, people in my life (parents at school, acquaintances, relatives) often approach me to either ask me or tell me about toys they’ve purchased or are thinking of purchasing for their children.  Increasingly, these are electronic toys.  It’s not unusual to hear that someone has bought their child an ‘app’ or a child-marketed tablet because they think it’s educational.  They think (and are encouraged to do so by the marketers) that these toys will give their child a leg-up, that they will be more advanced than their peers once they get to school.  They also think that successful completion of these programs indicates that their child has learned something important, particularly to their school success.  Now… before you read what I’m about to write, I want to tell you that I’m not a perfect parent, far from it.  On Tuesday night, I was so sick that I sat my children down in front of the miracle that is the Treehouse channel, put dinner in the oven and prayed that my husband would get home soon.  I well understand the power of electronics to occupy children, to keep them quiet and subdued, and to give adults a little relief.  I’m reminded of what Rachael Lynde tells Diana in Lucy Maude Montgomery’s Anne’s House of Dreams when they’re discussing the ubiquity of the Eaton’s Catalogue in late 19th century Canada.

“Well, they’re splendid to amuse children with,” said Diana. “Fred and Small Anne look at the pictures by the hour.”

I amused ten children without the aid of Eaton’s catalogue,” said Mrs. Rachel severely.

I don’t want to be the Rachael Lynde in this story.  I know that all of this gadgetry is amusing.  I know it occupies kids and keeps them out from under your feet when you’re cooking dinner.  But… educational, brain-developing, mind-stretching?  I doubt it.  I think that success in completing those programs mostly means that you’ve successfully learned how to complete the program.  I’ve met children who can identify letters by tapping on them in an app but can’t then identify them in a book.  It’s largely a conditioning system… ring a bell and the dog salivates… tap the screen and you get a song or a picture or a digital sticker.  It’s a very effective reward system but the learning is dubious.   I don’t think they have any more value than a paper worksheet; you can scroll down to see how I feel about those.  We have some very simple toys in our classroom.  Have a look at the amazing variety of things the children have been doing with them in the past few days.  They aren’t expensive, they last forever, you can play with them in many different ways, many of them are quite beautiful to look at and they all stretch the mind and imagination.  They provoke problem solving and social negotiation with other children and best of all… they’re fun!

Wooden blocks... need I say more?
Wooden blocks… need I say more?
They all start out as cubes but they hinge differently.
They all start out as cubes but they hinge differently.

More architecture blocks

Wow... another amazing simple toy.
Wow… another amazing simple toy.

DSCF0306 DSCF2032

All sorts of learning here.  Building stable structures with unusual elements, relative size, shapes...
All sorts of learning here. Building stable structures with unusual elements, relative size, shapes…

Rainbow Arches, wooden blocks and magnetic tiles the view from above

balance, stability, largest to smallest
balance, stability, largest to smallest