I have wanted to cook with tofu for a long time. I carry around this idea that it would be good for us to eat vegetarian once a week. I have even purchased tofu once or twice but after a few months in the fridge, I have tossed it out. What is the shelf life for tofu? This time around, only a few days after bringing home a package of tofu, I received an email with a tofu chili recipe. I had most of the ingredients and I knew I could ad lib for a few of them. My cooking style is improv anyway. So, there it is. Tofu, crumbled and cooking in a pot with beans and tomatoes and peppers. I wonder if he will notice that it isn’t meat?
Children often learn by watching. They spend time looking at things, asking questions, wondering. When do we stop using this technique to learn, to uncover meaning?
It is conference and portfolio sharing time at our school. Parents are eager to hear how their child is doing and wondering if they will be ready for kindergarten. Teachers have been collecting evidence, work samples, stories, notes, and photos. They have completed observational learning records. The classrooms are neat and tidy. The schedules have been sent out. Yet uncertainty hangs in the air like a low cloud. Each year, I find myself wishing I could blow that cloud away. Will parents see how amazing their child is? Will they appreciate the learning that happens each day as we play and work in the classroom? Have the teachers done enough? (This seems a silly question to me but I know that my teachers are wondering.) Collected the right evidence? Set up the right stations? Will parents be able to “see” the learning?
I have been in the classrooms. I know it is there. I am hope-filled this morning. And I plan to take my seeing eyes with me as I walk though the classrooms today and talk with parents. Maybe listening to those questions will help that cloud fade away to blue sky.
How do we learn to make choices? Or maybe the question is, do we need to learn to make choices? In school, won’t the teacher tell you what to do?
In a good preschool classroom, young children are practicing choice making skills every day. They are given time, space, and materials to explore. The teacher provides reminders, “It is almost clean up time so if you want to paint, now would be the time.” There are natural consequences for choosing poorly (children won’t play with you if you hit them) but each day begins anew and the choices are there again. This is such an important skill – for school and for life. I look at young people who have had their lives scheduled and programmed. When they find themselves away at camp or college, they don’t know how to make a choice. I think of the phone calls we got, “I am at the store and there are two pair of pants I like.” or “There is a meeting about a study tour and I am thinking of going.” My response? “I can’t wait to hear what you choose.” It might not have been what they wanted to hear but the choice belonged to them. Choices. Ownership. Responsibility. Confidence. It is never too early to start practicing.
When do we stop thinking of play as something that nurtures learning? This question came to me as I talked with another group of parents last week. I was describing a typical day in the classroom and one parents said, “So it does sound like play. My child tells me they just play at preschool and I am wondering if they are going to learn anything.”
Yes, it does look like play because it is play. But let’s not fool ourselves. Play is work. The children just don’t know it yet.
When I first found myself wanting to knit a sweater, I thought it would be a diversion. As I looked at patterns, I quickly realized that while it might be fun to knit a sweater, there was going to be some work involved. I heard Dr. Weil say recently that one way of keeping our brains supple is to tackle tasks that create frustration. This project, only a few inches in, fits that criteria. It was not going to be as simple as casting on the stitches and increasing at the right places. I had to count, to pay attention, and I really need to learn a few things. The increase stitch was new to me. I fumbled with it for an evening, all the time thinking of a child I had watched, fumbling with a pair of scissors, struggling to make them cut the paper into a circle. Another child sat down and picked up a pair of scissors and began to cut. This second child had more scissor cutting experience and knew just how to hold the scissors to make the cuts. The first child watched for a minute, then returned to his own cutting. Soon he made an adjustment, putting the scissors down, picking them up again, mimicking the grip of his classmate. As his classmate finished cutting a circle, he made another adjustment, turning the scissors around so he was cutting away instead of toward himself. Each adjustment made the task a bit easier until he had cut around the circle shape to his satisfaction. He held up his own circle and smiled.
I found a video demonstrating this new stitch. I watched the demonstration, hit pause, and picked up my own needles. The first few increases were awkward but as I worked, the stitch began to feel comfortable. I searched for another video to learn how to make a buttonhole. More fumbling, more adjustments, but finally, success.
Yesterday I pulled a chair up to a cutting table in another classroom. Today the shape on the paper was a pumpkin, similar but with a bit more of a challenge to get that stem cut out. One child was working on this cutting activity. When he noticed me watching, he looked up and said, “This is my work. You gotta work hard. Even our dads gotta work hard.” He is right. This isn’t just playing with scissors or paper or yarn. This is playing, struggling, adjusting. This is learning.