Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Deconstruction of (Living) Things

Deconstructed bumblebee
A few weeks ago a person* in the Rainbow Room tore apart a dead bumblebee that was available for viewing under the loupe (a large magnifying glass on a stand). People nearby were very upset: Hey, you hurt the bee!!

The teachers, too, were concerned. Please don't break our classroom materials. This bee was for everyone to see under the loupe.
Admittedly we don't want people to destroy or dismantle items in our classroom, but these types of events occur in a preschool classroom. When a person knocks down someone else's magna tile ship, we ask the person to rebuild the ship for his or her classmate. Or if a toy gets broken, intentionally or accidentally, the teachers invite the person involved to help repair it. By bringing people back to a  destructive event, we are encouraging a reflection on one's actions; creating awareness of oneself and their surroundings. We also are supporting the growth of empathy: even if one's inadvertent actions (or purposeful, for that matter) impact someone else in the classroom, we check in. We promote the care for each other, the things around us. This process is an everyday occurrence in the Rainbow Room; par for the course.

Showing Anna a bug
caught in our classroom

A depiction of a dead spider a group
saw in the basement
Choosing a favorite butterfly on our poster
But the bumblebee incident brought up questions and feelings that I had not before considered.... somehow this "deconstruction" felt different. Why? Is there more to this event than just someone tearing apart a classroom material? It's not alive any more- is the fact that it once was alive making us more sensitive to it's safety? Should we expect the children in our classroom to feel the same way? Aside from the social norms about breaking something other people are investigating- that's not what I'm wanting to discuss here- is there learning to be had by actively deconstructing a dead bumblebee? What can this person share with the group that we had not before noticed? Is there a fascination with seeing the parts of an organism separately that we had not considered? Maybe there's an interest- an iconic, age-appropriate interest- in exploring living things, especially accessible things like bugs- and dead things.

The more I reflect on how we treat small critters, particularly bugs, I'm realizing how much presence insects and bugs maintain in the Rainbow Room (literally and figuratively). We find bugs all the time and usually catch and release them. Our warm windowsills often exhibit the occasional dead fly, a living stink bug, and to the children's delight, the beautiful ladybug.

Grub worms mysteriously appeared in our
acorns in the sensory table
Releasing the grub worms
on the playground
Making a home for the grub worms
Sometimes living bugs become the object of protective nurturing, as in the case of the grub worms "hatching"(?) from our classroom acorns. The same people whom I've observed stepping on bugs outside on the playground have been seen sensitively and carefully caring for these grubs in the classroom, making homes for them out of magna tiles and hollow blocks. Some specimen were collected to release on the playground- even the details of the grubs' comfort was considered when crafting the transporting environment (note the acorns in the bowl).

People noticed a spider on the playground
climber and quietly watched it move away.
For further exploration of living things,
a giant leopard moth caterpillar
was discovered and saved. An
enriching habitat will support its life
functions until its metamorphosis.

Providing space for the spider
while observing it.
After one person killed a granddaddy
long leg spider, a group was
invited to help the individual bury it.

Occasionally living things are deliberately killed on the playground. We aren't comfortable with this behavior, so we remind people that the playground is the animal's habitat; move away if you don't like it, but please don't hurt it. Drawing one's attention to the reaction of his or her peers can be a learning opportunity as well: were people interested in this bug? Were they observing it? 

When a particular episode occurred recently, a group of people were asked to help their friend bury the spider he had squashed. What resulted was a devoted group of friends working to create a lovely place in which to bury the spider. They rallied around each other, working toward a common goal and were satisfied with their collective result.

The spider's grave

Now I'm thinking of the Rainbow Room's next bug-related provocation: examining the parts of a bumblebee together.


 *I am deliberately using the terms people or person because generally that's how Rainbow Roomers refer to themselves (versus "children").


"I'm looking at the way you made it so I can make it"

Zoey to Berkley

Learning from each other is basic, and it is important for reasons that may not be immediately apparent.  Contagion, as we like to call it, is where one child's idea catches the eye of another, and sometimes another and another.  With it we see the development of new skills, the sharing of knowledge and the spontaneous growth and transformation of an original idea.  Adding one to another, sparks fly.  The creative process is made into visible steps as it is shared between children.  

But the part that is not so obvious is that an idea passed on to another child increases our shared experience and thereby our connection to each other. Before long there are common mythologies in the room, familiar props for play, and joint investigations into new concepts.  It creates a culture in the classroom that ties us together.  It is dynamic and continuously evolving.

It starts with a moment of noticing and being inspired by someone else's work.

"Can you help me draw what Cal drew?"  Kai

Bridges inspired by Berkley's trip to California:

Monday, October 13, 2014


Why do children call each other names?

Last week name-calling seemed to spring from out of nowhere.  First one child, then another, and another.  We are working to help the children identify the motivation behind it and find more appropriate ways of communicating and getting what they need.  Most of the children have gained enough control to refrain from physically lashing out; they are just beginning to realize that their words are also powerful.  We have been talking about this with the children, and Kelly and I did some role-playing in circle the other day.

Very often children lash out because they feel excluded, feeling out of connection.   Though it is counter intuitive, it is often a desire to connect that drives divisive behavior.  When children hurt each other, physically or emotionally, we ask them to check to see that everyone is okay, to see if there is something to do to help the wounded child, and then we help them come (back) into connection with each other.  In a conflict, we also teach children how to tell someone to "stop" when they are uncomfortable with what is going on.

We decided we will follow the same strategy with name-calling.  There is also an opportunity for playfulness around language and rhyming if the situation is light enough.  As parents, you can help too by arranging play-dates with a variety of children because the more they get to know each other, the more they find in common.

But this is a bigger problem; not only with the children, but also with us.

In our discussion about this we noticed our own attitude; we considered this a "childish" problem, as if we were above their behavior.  But our attitude that this is a childish problem created an instant divide between us and them.

But wait, do grown-ups call names?  At first we laughed at the thought of calling each other "poopy pants", but we actually do; just silently, in our heads, all the time.  Our name-calling has just become internalized.  Even the more benign labels have an edge, - feminist, conservative, teenager, - they diminish the other and separate us.

And quieter than the labels are the silent voices, the thought voices.  Can you hear them?  As we drive our cars, as we wait in lines, as we watch the news, our inner voices constantly judge other people's choices, their actions, their affiliations, the way they look, what they wear.  We strengthen our own sense of right, our sense of self, by making "others" from brothers.  It is as if we can only know and appreciate ourselves by knowing that we are NOT THEM.  Any little difference will do.   And even more amazing is that in all these things we constantly judge ourselves as well.

Kelly asked, "What happens when we start to believe the names we call"?
And we do believe them, we cling to them.

And then she said, "When we exclude others we exclude ourselves."
Which prompted an image for me - we set out to build fences to keep the others out, one section at a time - but a fence that goes all the way around is no more than a cage.  We become trapped in small thoughts.

Kelly added, "So we have to be mindful of what we say, AND what we think.  Because everyone matters, and we belong to each other."

How can we raise our children so that they don't just remake name-calling into it's internalized equivalent, lowering their voices but still raising fences?  How can we reach deeper to relieve them from the judgment and separation?  If we can do that, well, that will be something.