Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Teaching: "Real Work" with My Little Eskimos

When I started to read, in earnest, Kindergarten Education, I felt suddenly back in touch with my Waldorf roots. Between this book and Hartsbrook's video, I feel like I'm back on track. I am remembering all the little things that are important to the way that I teach. One of them is creating a world of fantasy. This is not just done through free-play, but also by creating an atmosphere. I want there to be so many things in our school to facilitate this like play silks and play stands, but I need to figure out a way to do this with what we have.

And this winter, what we have is snow.

I put aside my desire for fairies and gnomes and settled upon Eskimos. Ruzenka had been singing a Czech song with them about Eskimos. While I understand that it's not politically correct to be using Eskimos in this way, it's a starting point for further fantasies. I can't help but think of Eskimos, either, as we try to perform triage while getting them ready to go outside and come inside. We put on stockings, fleeces, snowsuits, boots, scarves, hats, mittens, and whatever else their parents might send them with. The end result is some combination of "I can't put my arms down," Eskimos, and astronauts. Christmas is long behind us now and spring still feels quite far off, so we are celebrating winter as Eskimos. We just got an igloo-shaped tent for the classroom and I have taken to calling the children "my little Eskimos." Children love to be called something other than children. It encourages their fantasy, helps them feel like they are part of a group, and is simply fun.

One of the aspects of Waldorf education that has returned to my mind is "real work." As a teacher, my job is to model for children. I shouldn't be telling them all day what to do, but I should do it myself and if they want to join in, so much the better. It's difficult, at first, because traditional education has made it feel unnatural to let children behave naturally. But, I'm getting the hang of it again. While we are outside, I don't believe in constantly telling them what games to play or giving them tasks. Instead, I start doing something, and they can join in or not. I keep following the idea that children do not need constant vigilance. Watching them will only make them anxious and prevents them from coming up with their own ideas for play. So, I work myself and keep watch out of the corner of my eye.

Our igloo has been my "real work" success story. Yesterday morning, the snow was too hard to pack. We couldn't make snowmen or forts. Instead, I started digging a kind of reverse moat to make a wall. When they asked me what I was doing, I said I was making an igloo. They observed. In the afternoon, the snow was so hard that it was breaking into chunks. Perfect! We now had bricks of snow to build our igloo! I started breaking up the pieces and stacking them on the wall. Quickly, the children joined in. When it came time to leave, I completely forgot myself. I was so into my work and so were the children. We are making a structure that they can play in. They have a stake in their work. It's clear and simple.

This morning, they didn't want to come inside at first--they just wanted to work on the igloo. They chipped away at the hard snow, made bricks, and packed them together. During regular outside play time, they weren't so interested in helping, but that was fine, I continued to work myself. Occasionally, they helped. Most importantly, we had a new girl today who reveled in this work. She had not done anything else at school--she wanted nothing more than to go home to Grandma. But when she had work to do, she was completely content. So, above is a photo of the igloo so far. I'm hoping to find a hose or a spray bottle so that we can give it a nice coat of ice.



I thought back to other projects we've done in school. These suet bird feeders certainly count as real work. They served a practical purpose and the children can enjoy them. We spent 20 minutes one day watching a black bird try to eat off of one without landing on it.

During nap time, I read more of Kindergarten Education and remembered the things I did at Cricket that were real work. We all milled apple sauce together, we set the table, we washed the dishes. This afternoon, I decided to test the waters of real work indoors. While the children were having free play, I set out some aprons, a few towels, a bowl of soapy water, and a bowl of clean water. I collected the play dishes which did actually need some cleaning after many months of sticky fingers and runny noses. I dipped the cups in the soapy water and scrubbed with my hands, rinsed them in the clean water, and laid them on the towel. One new boy who has been difficult to entertain and distract watched me, enthralled. I offered him an apron and showed him what I was doing. He washed all of the dishes himself and then looked for more things to wash. This work had purpose. This work was sensory. The water was just the right temperature. You could smell the soap. I made sure to use a fuzzy towel.

I am working to remember the importance of all these things. Work and magic, work and magic, work and magic. Slowly, I'm becoming the teacher I want to be.

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