Yesterday, I had one of those days. One of those days in a good way.
It was a very "Dodge" afternoon. In my classroom, the Spruce Room, we didn't do anything according to plan. In fact, we threw the plan right out the window. We started class with the intention of hiking right away, but everyone seemed to have a cold and we had a hard time getting organized-- there were multiple visits to the bathroom, wardrobe changes and attendance hiccups. We couldn't seem to get farther than an area that we call, the "Mungle Jungle." It's just outside the playground gate. The Mungle is a little clearing in the burdock-filled woods, just off of a boggy marsh. It has a couple good climbing trees, which are draped with large Tarzan-type vines. There are some old rotting tree stumps and a lot of dead fall, thanks to a severe summer storm. In fact, that storm took out one of the best parts of the Mungle: a cool stick fort. My ever-enthusiastic colleague, Luzia, had been working on building a new stick fort with another class of kids, and since we seemed to be stuck there, she invited kids to build while we waited to hike. Of course, the children became so engrossed in construction, that we stayed right there for much of the day.
Since we were sticking around, my other co-teacher, Amanda, went and fetched the class journals. Soon enough, children were building or writing, and then they were doing both, at the same time.
There we were, in the near woods, and everywhere we looked, we could see kids engaged in very purposeful activity alone, in pairs or in little bands. A stump became a desk and the writer at the stump desk turned and asked Amanda to come and see her work. It was the very first time this particular child had initiated a conversation with her teacher. A couple of boys sat side by side, working in their journals. One boy sang a silly song about pie and his fellow turned and said, "Wait. How does that song go?" And we watched as the singer repeated the song, verse by verse, for the friend who began to illustrate his words.
These two have known each other for a year, but never had they actually conversed. A group of girls at work in the new stick fort decided that it needed to be fumigated. Small sticks became tools--"scrapers," "hammers," "pounders," and "catchers"-- which they employed with great dexterity in order to rid the new structure of "cockroaches" and "bedbugs." Three more children strolled around peeking into other kids' journals, offering suggestions and then pausing to climb a tree together. As they climbed, they offered one another advice about how to reach "the highest branch." Another boy called me over to where he had lugged a very large branch. "See this?" he said, pointing to the branch with his slender pointed stick, "It needs to be mended, here and here. This is how I mend it. Watch."
One child sat up in a tree. Having watched the other climbers for some time, she had finally attempted the summit herself. After achieving the "highest branch," all on her own, she was now content to hang out in her throne, just watching. She seemed to enjoy her vantage point, as if she was the queen of our little village. It struck me that each child seemed not only happy, but content. And what was satisfying them so? Industry and enterprise. The play was autonomous, and certainly well-imagined, but everyone was pretending that they had a job, and each job seemed to fulfill the need of the moment. Everyone was lost in that moment, or found, really, depending on how you look at it.
These are the days that teachers live for, I think. Especially early childhood professionals. I think we are really happy when everything is clicking along, when everyone is getting along. But we are super-extra happy when things are "working." I think its no mistake that we say, "things are working." I think we mean that we are witnessing children finding purpose in life, or "work." And when we witness children discovering their purpose, their work, we, in turn, have found ours.
Adults have a hard time living in the moment. My yoga teacher says, "Just breathe. That's all you have to do. Breathe in this moment. Let the rest go." Yeah, right. Easier said than done. So I breathe, and the parade marches through my head: I forgot to return a phone call, I need to pick up milk, I shouldn't have yelled at her, I should get the cat to the vet, I should lose ten pounds... On and on it goes. But there are a few minutes, maybe a few seconds in reality, when it all falls away and it is just the breath. "Oh!" I think, "I'm doing it!" And just when I think that, it's over. You can't be thinking that and still be "breathing in the moment." Well, great days in the classroom are like breathing in the moment. Everyone exists only in the activity and there is nothing else that is more important or fun than what we are doing right here, right now. That's what happened yesterday. It was a delightfully lost afternoon.
"Time to go home? Are you sure?" That's why I teach at Dodge. I can get lost here.