To celebrate our first day of vacation, Max made a Spring Break Cake. It was a treat.
But equally delicious was a moment with Stella at the playground, just prior to the cutting of the cake.
She had eyed those wobbly steps for months, at various playgrounds, but due to a combination of my own fears and hers, she had never really had a go at them. On this day, her legs seemed to have gotten just long enough, and we were both feeling brave and strong, and so she began to climb. She was unsure at first, trying to get a feel for it, reaching out to me and demanding that I be close by. I didn't hold her, but I coached her now and then, reassuring her, giving suggestions here and there. And so when she arrived at the top, fully powered by her own doing, she smiled a smile more radiant than the sun that had chased the clouds away on this first day of spring break,inspired a cake, and a new way to climb.
I think often of this quote from Ellin Keene:
When we are curious, we are building upon a uniquely human trait– the need to pose questions and seek answers. Curiosity becomes insatiable, seeking to understand becomes intoxicating, and we find the life of the mind deeply pleasurable. We want more.
Ellin Keene, To Understand
Stella wanted more. Around and around she went, taking a moment to shine her gorgeous smile over the playground each time she made it back to the top. Pretty soon she began to teach me with her words, "Pull them together, step up, step over, pull them together, step up..." She was voicing the strategy she'd invented. Now, not only fearless, but expert.
This evening, I stumbled across Susan Engel's latest op-ed piece in the New York Times, "Let Kids Rule the School" and I thought again of Stella and her drive to climb, to master technique, and to share what she'd learned. Susan writes that kids "need to be the authors of their own education." Or is it, perhaps that adults need to remember that they always are? When we stand beside them with a ready hand, they'll get to the top (no need to race) and want to go back for more.
Spending the week coming home. It's been hard to leave the beach this year. Missing the way the beach brought us together as we've gone our scattered ways every day this jet lagged week.
Missing the endless explore time.
The sweet togetherness.
The time to wander.
To get to know the tides.
How blessed we are to have a place like this to go to. But I'm wondering today about what lessons our days at the beach have to teach us about how we want to spend our time. It reminds me of Mary Oliver's haunting question: What will you do with your one wild and precious life? What will our children imagine for their own?
We're headed into the busy season already. How will we preserve this time of wonder?
Oh, what a month it has been. Cross country travel two times. Big presentations to wonderful, committed people. Lots of new friends. One sweet day with mom, 3000 miles from here. One quick ferry ride to Peaks Island and back. Home again for a birthday. Sophie on stage. Soccer. Playdates. Homework. New garden beds. Housework. The beginning of the end of the school year. The end of preparing next year's big rocks: calendar, staff, budget, new families. Opal School's summer symposium looming. Documentation. New exhibits at the Portland Children's Museum. And all the new ideas that keep coming. All the life that keeps wanting to be lived.
Right smack in the middle of it all, a weekend at Camp Westwind with the Opal School community. The world stopped and the sun shined and the whales said, "Breathe."
It was a good reminder.
Today I also spent hours and hours writing about the importance of play and inquiry in children's lives... so here, I'll just borrow from the Foreward:
This book is a guide to developing better questioners, tinkerers, experimenters, and thinkers. These are the tools with which children ultimately become inquisitive members of society and are the underpinnings of our next generation of inventors, innovators, and leaders.
Mike Petrich, Learning Studio Director, Exploratorium
The sweet, delicious candy that is Small magazine posted a comment about play recently on their blog, Smaller, that left me pondering the state of our societal relationship to child's play these days. I suppose that the writers are simply lamenting the idea that adults might co-opt the right of a child to play for their own purposes. They refer to "therapy, treatment" and "curriculum-based activity". And while I would agree that children need safe streets in which to play freely and in whatever way they choose, I wouldn't argue that play doesn't belong in any and all places where children might show up. Adults, too, probably. Play is good. And it's how we learn. So let's be sure and celebrate it wherever we find it. And make sure, if we're going to argue, that we only argue for MORE.
I had begun to think that maybe I wouldn't be able to get back to this writing place. I have been distracted, at best, and at worst, distraught, over Sophie's transition to middle school. I've seen this kind of slow, sad recognition settle over children from time to time-- when things happen like parents divorce-- and the children are, at first, okay. There is novelty. The situation is new and somehow interesting. And weeks later, the sadness that has been lurking quietly behind the intrigue makes itself present, center stage. I have been stuck here myself for days now, shaking hands with this sadness. Trying to understand what it's doing here, and trying to find a way to ask it, politely or otherwise, to leave.
The truth is, the situation is ripe with writing inspiration. Especially for the kind of progressive public school teacher researcher writer that I am. But on the occasion of my own daughter's entrance into the decay that is our urban public school system, I'm not feeling all that inspired. I'm just terribly sad.
And I have been eating an awful lot of that leftover Halloween candy that's been lying around and off limits to the kids.
But what it's been waiting for (aside from mood enhancement duty) is what finally did inspire me to write this evening. No school tomorrow meant no homework this afternoon. And no music lessons. And no soccer practice. No errands, appointments... we had time to play. And that Halloween candy became the subject of serious scientific inquiry. It was cut, sorted, boiled, baked, soaked, mixed, smelled and, well, okay, even tasted a little. It filled me up to see Sophie and Max plan together, challenge each other, put their heads together.
Did you know you can soak those little m's right off an m&m?
And for a few hours, I wasn't sad at all. And I wasn't even eating candy. Really. I was filled with the awe and inspiration that always comes of watching my children creatively engaged in the pursuit of their own curiosities. I was entangled in their joy.
Why do our schools neglect to fuel up on the power of children's natural curiosities? Each missed opportunity is a tragedy for the children, for the adults and for our communities. In the abstract, these problems fire me up and get me to work. But I'm not sure I can tolerate the impact of this tragedy on my own child. Her childhood wanes.
Research shows that when children engage in free, spontaneous play outdoors, they adapt more readily to their culture, to society, and to the world. They build fine and gross motor skills. They learn to negotiate and solve problems. They stretch their imagination. They become more flexible in their thinking, and they develop creative and aesthetic appreciation.
from an interview with Joe L. Frost
in the American Journal of Play, vol. 1, No 2., Fall 2008
After a meeting today focused on design and concepts for the eventual outdoor exhibit at the Portland Children's Museum... I happened upon all the reasons to be excited about the project. In case there is a chance I might forget...
There is something magical in an unexpected fit of giggles. Our family was driving home in the dark, collected together after another busy week night of various activities that had us spread all over town. And for some reason, Bob had decided to introduce Moon Unit's old "Valley Girl" song to the kids. So it was predictably funny when 2 year old Stella, who barely talks at all, picked up on "Oh my God!" with all the appropriate inflections and said it over and over again. Maybe that's what had us primed.
But then,being the responsible people we are, of course, we all decided that we should take this opportunity to get seriously quiet in the hope that Stella would fall asleep. Soon Bob broke the rule and said something to me. Stella, having been listening to all the shushing and rule making said sternly, "Daddy bop. I zeep." And Sophie said, "Yeah, Daddy. Bop. Stella's trying to zeep." And for whatever reason, that sent us all like dominoes into uncontrollable giggle abandon. We couldn't stop laughing the rest of the way home. There was no sleep to be had in that car. Not a chance. But everyone's so happy in those shared giggles, that it suddenly seemed a much better idea to stay awake. Together.
I had just come from the first parent meeting for Opal's Museum School pre-K and kindergarten programs. During this event, the parents were asked to create gifts to surprise and delight their children when they returned to school in the morning.
The PK parents created "fairies of the forest" :
which the teachers will hide here:
So the children will feel loved and cherished and inspired to tell stories here:
in the coming days of school.
Parents also wrote wishes for their children to hold dear while they're apart:
Intentionally planning for joy means recognizing the power in a moment of uninhibited giggles, and taking care that a new learning community has plenty of it. I can't wait for the children to discover their new treasures.
But for now, I'll bop. I need some zeep.