Last night I was washing a martini glass and my vigorous scrubbing snapped the stem, deeply cutting my thumb and first two fingers. I bandaged them up big—both for protection and as a warning to this morning's classroom not to get too rough with the old man.
Four hours later, they are still attached.
Even though a classroom may have the same mix of kids each week, the tenor may vary. Last week, for example, one of the teachers said, "We have a very angry group today." Today, however, the children listened very well, spoke when they were supposed to speak, and the inevitable one or two who acted out were the least disruptive I've seen in a long while.
Last week, kids couldn't wait in line to wash their hands. This week, virtually the same group did pretty well.
After a period of play with straw, sticks and bricks, one boy spontaneously started cleaning the floor and two others found brooms and joined him. Another boy, upset because there weren't enough brooms, was persuaded he could manage the dustpan instead.
I can tell you, it's not the teachers enforcing this mood. In a class aged 3 to 5, there's no way three adults can fully orchestrate a group of 16 so it maintains its attention consistently or participates fully in activities. (Well, maybe in an Amish summer camp, but not in an urban homeless shelter.)
The class had a rhythm of its own, and it was good.
In Beyond Culture, anthropologist Edward T. Hall described a student who inadvertently captured an expression of the ocean of rhythm in which we are all immersed. He was analyzing a film he'd made of a playground of children and discovered that they all appeared to be moving to a synchronous beat. "[W]e found a tune that fit the rhythm. Then the music was synchronized with the children's play and once synchronized stayed in sync for the entire 4 1/2 minutes of the film clip!"
But there was no music and no beat heard on the playground. "The children were screaming and yelling and laughing and making all the playground noises that children make. Without knowing it, they were all moving to a beat which they generated themselves. This did not mean that they were all moving at the same time, just as there are times when different sections of an orchestra are silent." But they did have a "conductor"— a little girl who moved around the most and in effect kept the beat going.
I'm so busy reading to kids, watching for impending meltdowns or directing bathroom traffic between poopers and hand washers, that I may be missing what helps set this mood and keeps it going. Without a videocam and a grad student, I probably never will capture it but I'll try to stay tuned.
I hadn't seen Zionte (all the kid names are changed here) since last November and had assumed she'd moved on with her family. But she was here today along with her little brother, who's new to the class. Zionte was once the younger sibling when she had an older brother in the class, and she was a bit of a terror—but in a bright, funny way—a part her little brother is auditioning for, but there's a lot of competition.
Today, several kids were using the doctor kit to give me a medical check up—heart, lungs, eyes, ears, reflexes, etc. Zionte informed me, "You're going to die."
I figured preschool playtime was not a place for the "we're all going to die" discussion, so I went along with the diagnosis.
"Can you fix me?" I asked. I was pretty confident. After all, 5-year-old doctors have extraordinary healing powers.
"No, you're gonna die. You're going to be under the dirt."
I wonder how many real doctors would be that direct?
Kids are pretty cavalier about death. Last week, we had mass dying on the playground. Many were dropping dead, and kids took turns carrying the bodies to graves, then the dead resurrected and went back to where they could die again. It gave me a nice break from being the zombie who gave shoulder rides.
Zionte came back later and said she could fix me after all.
A green bean in each ear and I was a good as before I washed the martini glass.