Let’s see… it’s been less than two weeks since the last day of school. In some ways it seems a lot longer. While I’m not quite ready to go back yet, I do miss the kids. I ran into one of the little guys in the store the other day… I confess it felt really great that he seemed so excited to see me. He was almost jumping up and down as he introduced me to his Dad as “one of the teachers from school.” When I asked him if he was ready to go back to school yet, he gave me a very enthusiastic “yes” that left me both happy and sad. I’ve often wished that the line between playing and learning was a lot more blurred than it is. Whenever I sub in a classroom I start the day by announcing three new rules that get added for the day. The second one is that we “have fun learning.” (A while back a critic of one of my adult courses commented, “I know you want the students to have fun and like you, but…” Since when is learning not compatible with enthusiasm and fun?)
Here’s a short TED talk by a woman who I think “gets it.” I would love to be in her class–wouldn’t you?
The kids do make me think. While substituting in a first grade classroom, we had a special guest whose presentation included a pretty cool rock video of choreographed exercise. It took a few minutes to get everyone in position with their “space bubble” around them so they weren’t interfering with each others’ moves. During that set up one of the kids asked, “Mr. Boomsma, are you old enough to dance?”
My knee-jerk reaction to his question was a chuckle that he’d asked it wrong. What he really meant to ask was, “Mr. Boomsma, are you too old to dance?” Because we were busy I just redirected his attention to the task at hand. “Spread your arms and make sure you’re not touching a neighbor… turn around in a circle…”
Unfortunately it wasn’t until later that I realized I should have asked him about his question. Maybe he meant exactly what he asked and I was the one who was wrong. His original question doesn’t make sense, you say? Why would he think I wasn’t old enough to dance? Well I, for one, will never presume to immediately understand another person’s thought process–particularly a child’s. They tend to be literal but they also tend to be free thinking.
But here’s the thing. In retrospect, the question I thought he meant to ask doesn’t make much sense either. Other than my gray hair, what basis is there for wondering if I’m too old to dance? I’ve occasionally joked that I can still do the things I did when I was young, it just takes me longer. Another variation of that joke is that I can still do the things I did when I was young, just not for as long.
Perhaps my young friend doesn’t carry that baggage with him. At least not yet. As a society, we will mold him and make sure he operates with assumptions, biases and prejudices he may not even be aware he has. Sometimes we do it unconsciously. The process brings to mind the fictional Borg collective from Star Trek. “Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.”
When the video started the kids were mesmerized and I stood back to watch. While I don’t focus on regrets, I do have one from that day. I should have got right in the middle, created my space bubble, and danced with them. Not only would I have had fun, but I wouldn’t be sitting here wondering if I unintentionally contributed to a perception regarding age that isn’t accurate. There is no age limit on dancing–you can’t be too old and you can’t be too young.
And it’s not just about dancing. It might actually be about everything. Why don’t we wake up every morning wondering what we want to be, what we want to learn, and what we want to do? Why do we wake up tired and then remind ourselves we’re not getting any younger?
In some ways, we can get younger. We can think like a kid–with their freedom of thought and their possibility thinking. I love hearing a kid’s question that starts with, “Mr. Boomsma, what would happen if…”
How easy it is to forget a simple truth: if we truly want to do something, our passion for it opens doors and makes things possible. Some things require practice and there’s a need to balance passion and patience. How ironic is it that I consider an important part of my job in the classroom is convincing kids they CAN do things but I stood on the sideline and missed the fun. What would happen if we just tried a lot more things? What would happen if we put on some music…
On Friday, March 22, Piscataquis Community Elementary School fifth graders learned the winners of the Newspapers in Education Contest during which they were challenged to create an advertisement for the book “Small People; Big Brains.” Perhaps the even bigger challenge was selecting an ad to publish from the many submissions. Judges finally settled on three finalist ads: first place by Melissa Burdin, second by Macee Pearl, and third by Jemyni True. Each student received a certificate of accomplishment and art kit to encourage the development of their skills.Art Teacher Mrs. Daniels received special recognition for her support of the Newspapers in Education program and this special project:
For your constant understanding and for always being there,
To tell them they can do it and to show them that you care!
Principal Mrs. Orton wondered with the group “if we can expect Mr. Boomsma to write a book every year so get this opportunity again…”
There’s never a lack of stories and inspiration from these kids, but I’m not sure I can keep up! Walking down the hall just yesterday a Kindergartner informed me, “I go to school here and my dad coaches one of the teams here… is that weird?” I tried to assure him it was anything but… adults and children can attend the same school and learn from each other. These people may be small, but they often have really big brains.
We have a winner! Actually we could LOTS of winners. In conjunction with the Newspapers in Education initiative and with the cooperation of Jane Daniels, art teacher at PCES, I commissioned the fifth graders to develop an advertisment for my forthcoming book, Small People – Big Brains: Stories about Simplicity, Exploration, and Wonder. The kids did an incredible job and made selecting the first place winner difficult for the judges! After much deliberation, one ad was selected for printing in the March 27th Newspapers in Education Supplement of the Piscataquis Observer.
The entire project is proving to be great fun! I may have to write another book before next year so we can do it again! We’ll be announcing the winner next Friday at school which means the kids will finally stop hounding me when I’m there!
As for the book itself, it’s in the final editing and illustrating stages. Then comes proofing and cover design. I confess I’m a little behind schedule, but still hoping for an April release date!
Walter Boomsma (“Mr. Boomsma”) writes on a wide array of topics including personal development, teaching and learning. Course information is also available here!