Thursday, June 27, 2013

Swings, Songs, and Solutions: Leadership in the Making

At Tumbleweed, we highly value child-directed solutions.  Common phrases you might hear from teachers include, "We need a plan!" and "It sounds like that works for everyone!" and "I know that X really enjoys helping create plans.  Shall we see if she's available to help us come up with some ideas?"

We've found that when we value a child-led process in problem solving, the children, in turn, also value the process!  They take great joy in coming up with interesting solutions.  They develop a sense of pride in their own ability to come up with a plan that works for everyone.  And this leads to a never-ending list of life skills:  They understand that not every plan works for everyone.  They know that sometimes their plans work, and sometimes they don't.  They don't fear failure.  They learn more and more about each other, themselves, and how they fit in their community.  They build leadership skills.  They figure out how to negotiate, how to stand up for themselves when they want to, how to let go when they can, and how to work through strong emotions of themselves and others.

This morning, as I observed at the Preschool House, I couldn't help but cry, overwhelmed by the beauty of the children's interactions.  I wish you could have been there... Check it out:   

Three children all wanted to swing (S, M, and T).  S offers a solution:  Everyone at the same time!  (Note:  I can almost guarantee that if I had come up with this plan, it would not have worked :)).  T and M agree to the plan, and T helps them get situated before climbing on the bottom rung.  
Pride and joy... They came up with this plan!
T's ability to swing the whole group makes everyone laugh and shriek.  The excitement of the three-child swing draws other children over.  Soon many children want a turn with T.  T directs:  "If you all line up over there, I'll know you want a turn." 
A group of children wait in line for a turn with the boisterous, swing-skilled T.
I don't interrupt this process.  I don't set a timer.  I don't say anything when one child takes a really long time on the swing.  They own the whole process.

And then some children express frustration with the wait time.  T's idea:  They could chant while they wait!  And how about also jump back and forth?
Check it out:
video

Did I stop them because the chant was "Weener, weener, pumpkin, penises"?  Nope.
Did I tell T she was being bossy?  No freaking way.
This works for everyone.  And it works for me.  So I just keep watching.

The chanting then turns into a parade of chanting and laughing around the yard.
T then leads the group up to the top of the play structure.  She has a vision.
T directs:  "M, you stand here!  With your head out!  Yes!  Like that!  And J, you stand in the middle.  Yes!  Put one hand here, and one hand here.  You're doing it!"

 Once everyone is in place, they sing, "You Are My Sunshine."  At one point, one child in the structure starts to bang on a pot like a drum.  It's too loud for some children.  The solution they come up with?  The drummer can take the drum out of the structure and far away to drum or stop drumming and stay.  He chooses to stay.

Then a child who was observing decides she wants to join in.  She attempts to communicate with TC that she'd like to get up the ladder, but he doesn't notice her.
 A teacher notices this and stands nearby, available.  Sure enough, the observer goes over to the teacher and explains her yearning to join in.  I can only hear snidbits of their conversation, "You need TC to move off the ladder?" and "You really want to join them!" And although I don't know exactly what was said and decided, it's clear that the observer feels ready to try again.
 This time she kneels down, directly in front of TC, and tries again, "I want to get on the ladder."
 When TC is still too distracted to hear her, the teacher comes over and helps him hear her.  "I hear M saying that she want to play too.  She wants to be on the ladder." 
 "Wait!" intervenes T, the one with a vision, "If she wants to join us, she has to sing."  The teacher asks M, "Does that work for you?"  M nods emphatically, and TC moves up the ladder, making space for her.
 And they sing.
  Here's a video of that process.  It's hard to hear, but you can still see so much! 

The group then asks the teacher to join in, and I am reminded that what shines just as bright as the amazing work of these children is the work of the teachers--always available as much as needed...never more, and never less.

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