A note from Noah

Last week, an alumni parent of ours walked in to her 1st-grade-daughter’s bedroom one morning to find her in pajamas cuddling with a beloved object. Typical, right? Until she realized that the object was, in fact, her daughter’s Journey Binder from nursery school. She had kept it in bed with her all night and was flipping through the pages. After getting ready for the day, she decided to put the whole thing (5” three-ring-binder!) in her backpack and bring it to school for the day. This was her past, her identity, her childhood; if you’ve ever wondered about our Journey Binders, this is why we do them – out of respect for the child’s ownership of her own experience.

Two weeks ago I wrote in this space about children needing tools in order to have their voice heard, because of their lack of language fluency. Two of our favorite tools for this are Journey Binders and Daily Reflections. Our hope is that our families are able to use these tools to open up conversations with their children, allowing the child to share their ideas, experiences, and passions.  The Binders and Reflections function, in this sense, as an icebreaker.  We often joke that the most asked, least answered question in America is, “So what did you do at school today?” The broadness of this question can stymie even an older child’s response. Daily Reflections and Journey Binders give you a starting point, a sense of shared experience with the child that can lead to a productive conversation.  “I see that you [baked muffins] [finger painted] [read Caps For Sale] today in class. Can you tell me more about that?” This use of the Binder and Reflections respects the notion that the child has plenty to share but may struggle “getting started.”  In this light, we encourage you to share your Daily Reflections with whoever picks up your child, so that they too can have this entry into conversation.

Additionally, our Journey Binders and Daily Reflections function as a tool to show children how much we respect their voice, ideas, and experiences. A mother recently told me how powerful it was to see something that her 3yr old child had said in the block area typed up in large print and posted on the classroom bulletin board. The teacher had captured one of the child’s many ideas about a block structure, and framed it in the context of an ongoing documentation about their block curriculum. The mother reported to me that seeing her son’s words help up to the world in this fashion was like a light bulb going off for her. She saw him in an environment in which his ideas and voice were not considered cute or whimsical, or dismissed outright as child’s talk, but rather were listened to and respected.  Her child’s voice was given a space.

This is our intention with the Journey Binders and Daily Reflections as well. As adults, we have plenty of places to “park” our ideas and our voice – we write letters, we text friends, we blog (or write Friday Notes), we go to therapy – we have a forum for our voice to be heard and respected. The culture we inhabit does not often grant this space for children. At our school, we do our best to counteract that by carving out space for the child’s voice to live. And here, it lives on our walls, in our Journey Binders, and in our Daily Reflections. The next time your Reflection contains an excerpt from a class conversation, read it aloud to your child. Ask them about what everyone said and their thoughts on it.  (And, I would add, share this with your classroom teachers –we love hearing feedback from our parents on the Reflections and how you use them at home!)

I’m always amazed, when children share their own perpsectives on an experience, at how dissonant with my adult perspective their values are. I once asked a student in my class what her favorite part of a fancy ten-day cruise with her family was; she replied, “We got to eat a muffin for breakfast every morning.” A student of mine came in to class one morning reporting that he had gone to his first Knicks’ game the night before with his dad. What was his favorite part? “Before the game started….all the players ripped their pants off!”  In a 2s room this week, a student introduced me to a stuffed animal she was holding. What does your polar bear do? “He stays with me under the covers at night” and she proceeded to describe how her parents tuck her in and she crawls under the cover, bringing the bear under with her.

Children don’t suddenly wake up mid-childhood and realize that they have ideas to share with the world. They are sharing them, right now. Some of them are silly, some of them are serious; all of them are theirs. They just don’t all have the language capacity to show this to you yet. It is our job to listen when we can, and to provide the space and tools that this work requires. Children need, and deserve, a place to share their voice and their ideas. Journey Binders and Daily Reflections are two ways we approach this. The act of listening invites the act of talking.  You might invite your child to do the same at home, to start a scrapbook or coloring corner that is all about what is important to them. You might be surprised at what they share.

Shabbat shalom,