and they will come

We have just been at our version of school – it’s school like in the way that you HAVE to be there early in the morning until 3pm and that there are lots of other children there… but however it is a holiday programme so other than an obligation to come when the whistle is blown twice, you are free to do mostly what you want – not if it would hurt yourself or others, environment, property or interfere with others’ play of course!

It is amazing the stuff the kids get up to. This time there was a lot of mining, which is basically digging dirt and maybe finding a rock (often called a gem, ore or fossil) in the dirt. Sometimes the dirt gets sifted into clay and made into objects. It was a little cold so we even “fired” them on the open fire this time. Then there are the usual making house games (bases), war (running around with sticks called swords, or bows and arrows) and endless conversations/negotiations etc.

Because we (Everyone out staff) are interested in education, actually I think it’s more that we can’t imagine life with out such things, we provide a “quiet” area with books, and of course the kids have access to drawing implements (sometimes hunks of charcoal from the fire) and paper or tarmac to draw or paint on. I would hesitate to say we go for a “print rich” environment…. There are no signs on our non existent walls, no examples of children’s published copies of anything, the only writing you see around is the rough whipped up ‘open’ signs painted on bits of wood, or their art all over the ground they walk on. I never correct any spelling…. there are no vocab lists… but there is a LOT of talking. Sometimes it seems like they talk all the time, that there is no thinking time, but then you see them doing their own individual pursuits. I often see the kids reading to each other, or reading together, rarely reading by themselves.

There is a theory that a print rich environment will inspire, encourage, and impel children to read and write. Despite our non emphasis on this kind of measurable writing output lots of the children both read and write in an age appropriate way. They get themselves to put their names on a list if they want to go to the river or the adjacent playground. Some kid will go around with a clipboard, sometimes they are 5 and get the other kids to write their own names, I’ve seen kids get others to spell out their names and then write them, and some look at the other kid’s name badges (sophisticated masking tape with vivid writing)… sometimes these lists are hard to read but we can guess. Often we have kids make comics. One kid often comes with ideas he has written down at home that act as props for what it wants to make happen, and one time that included a magazine all about the activity he got all the other kids to do….

This holidays I witnessed Helena and her friends develop the idea of a debating club. They are 9, 10, 10 and 12. At home the two 10 year olds (Helena and her bestie) got a book and covered it and thought of some possible topics. I think they had already discussed the idea as a group. There was quite a lot of focus on their code names – it’s a club so of course there are code names. Then they had a debate and got the 12 year old to take notes. Their first topic was whether trees should be treated like people or objects. Bearing in mind that in 2017 the Waikato river was granted legal personhood (as an aid to conservation) and as the Waikato river was the first of many it wasn’t perhaps a silly debate.

It was decided to get the 12 year old to write as the others don’t enjoy writing (Helena knows she is so slow), apparently the 9 year old likes spelling but not writing. The debate took a considerable amount of time and they let each other give their ideas. “We had a turn system”

They started with the conversation, the equipment to write was provided and they had the desire. They came to writing because they had something to say and they wanted to record it, to not have it forgotten. This is the same for the 5 year olds recording their names on a clipboard. I don’t think we have to make children write we just provide the tools and they will come when they feel the need. It was important to the debating club to remember, to record their salient points. It is after all the conversation that is important, the actual ideas that are interesting and in this case they show a much greater understanding of conservation, the rights of living beings and how complex the issue is, than I was expecting.

I write this blog because I use it as a way to think about my ideas, to consolidate them, to remember, and to practice the art of writing because I think it will be useful. Just like the kids.

I have been instructed to write the debate here:

  • Frog (12) if you think that trees should be treated like humans then following that same logic you should treat all plants like humans and that means harmful deadly weeds that kill trees. So if you want to save a tree you have to kill the plant. So you are murdering a human!
  • Snake (9) we shouldn’t treat them as objects or people, we should treat them like animals! with respect. But they should be treated with more respect than most farm animals because we need them.
  • Chick (10) but should we treat native and not native trees differently? Should we cut down one and not the other? although we should only cut down pine trees WE plant and not native forests
  • Rat (Helena) we should treat trees like trees, with respect and love. But trees aren’t human, they can’t move! they are unique, don’t move them or they will die!
  • Chick. Carrying on from what rat said, How are we going to make wooden structures?
  • Rat. We can use dead wood and cut man made pine forests.
  • Snake. We should treat trees like rat said but we should be able to cut down wilding pines because they are an invasive species and we should be careful that pine seeds don’t invade our native forests.
  • Frog. We should treat trees like trees with love and respect. Without trees sucking out the CO2 and turning it into oxygen and giving animals homes our planet would die.

Summary: We should treat trees like trees with love and respect. We should kill invasive species and protect natives.

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