The Voices of the Children

A nursery school classroom can be an awfully confusing place for an adult.  Our classrooms are built around the voice of the children, our youngest citizens, and this can lead to some pretty interesting scenarios. 

Yesterday I was in Classroom 6 with our preK students, watching as they were playing/working/living. Four children, seated and drawing at the “office table” (where they keep stationary, markers, etc) dashed off to a nearby drawer, raided it for mini-clipboards, and declared to each other, “We are playing school.”  “Yea, we have our clipboards.” “And our markers.”

Wait a minute.

One moment, they were in school, playing with markers. The next, they’re playing school with the markers. And to further confound our adult-oriented dichotomy of fantasy and reality, one student says, fluidly and without a hint of irony, “I’m Gemma, and I’m playing Gemma.”  She was pretending to be herself going to school and drawing with markers. While at the same time, actually being herself, in school, drawing with markers.

Next door, in Classroom 4, also with preK students, the same type of play emerges. Their Daily Reflection from earlier this week pictured three girls, lying on their backs on carefully arranged pillows, each holding a book above them. The girls glance at the camera and show the largest smiles possible.  The teachers included their transcribed words below the picture: “We were playing family,” “We were pretending we know how to read but we don’t really know how to.”

I am fascinated by this line. We often assume that when young children play they are working on activities – playing family or hospital, etc – and leave it at that. Our adult-minds might say, “Oh, these children were playing family.”  Yes, but these three students were also playing knowledge – pay careful attention to her words – they were not “pretending to read” (an activity), but “pretending we know how to read.” Knowledge, not activity, was at the heart of their play. 

So, here we have two children, one playing at being herself, and the other playing at knowledge. How do we respond to such nuances?

In a Reggio-inspired environment, we find ourselves often swallowing our assumptions about children. Their world is much more fluid then ours. The young child is not yet constrained by the distinctions we carry with us as grown-ups: fantasy|reality, playing|working, black|white. Child-centered, to us, means that it is not our job to constrain them.  Our job is to keep open the possibilities that come with this fluid world-view, to support and give space to the flourishing of the child’s spirit, in all of its expressions.

As a classroom teacher I would often remark to my co-teachers, just before the children walked in each morning, “I wonder what today will bring.”  It is this spirit that pervades in our classrooms. We are here to watch, listen, and learn from the children. We are here to support their world, not impose ours.

What assumptions do you carry about children? About your child? What do you impose on their play by making those assumptions? And what happens when you peel back those assumptions?  This is the work for all of us, as we raise our children together.

Shabbat Shalom,