Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A River Runs Through It

The Kindergarten ventured into the city for the last time. This was definitely a bittersweet journey. We have made sense of Our Richmond by connecting the many neighborhoods where we live, play and shop. We realized that a river flowed through so many of these neighborhoods and decided to set out to explore it. ( Although truth be told we have had some heated debates that there may be more than one river flowing through Richmond).

The children immediately noticed the wildlife including the ducks, the geese and the birds that make the river their home. The rocks and the rapids were cause for excitement as well. We walked out on an old railway bridge commemorating the Civil War. It was the perfect spot to view the rapids and the skyline. The location gave us the feeling of actually being in the midst of the river as we felt the breeze and watched the birds swoop and nest.

The excitement was palpable but the children definitely took some quiet moments to absorb it all.  One of my favorite moments during our field trip occurred when we gave each child their City Journals and a black thinking pen. The children became reflective and observant. The children were perched in different locations and positions documenting their perspective. We could glimpse their thinking without interrupting their thoughts. I often think about the long term impact that the simple practice of sketching during observation might have on the children's thought process and expression of understanding.

Dyson's City Journal has pages and pages of sparse abstract pictures of the river landscape including the rocks, churning water and  bridge

N. is our class historian and stopped at the historical markers with a classmate in tow to explain the significance of a memorial or location. Leo listened carefully to the story regarding the burning of Richmond. As his classmates captured the scenery, he recorded the story he had heard. Leo's picture included bombs dropping in the water, the wildlife retreating and President Lincoln looking tired and just plain sad as he watched the destruction.

Some of the confusion regarding the number of rivers in Richmond can be attributed to the canals that often flow beside the river. Anna brought the children closer and relayed some of the stories that she knew to be true about our canal system.

We took a few moments to capture the Kindergarten sitting with their city of Richmond soaring in the background. The children definitely have an investment in the city and an affinity for the neighborhoods and landmarks that are a part of their  mental collage. 

As we reflected on the field trip the children felt that the most memorable moment was dancing and singing on the stage with their classmates. The extroverts paraded first but the introverts found their way to the stage when the audience had dispersed. It was fun to perform as a rock star, Ninja Turtle or a Star Wars bad guy for a few brief moments of fame.

As we were leaving Brown's Island, a train drove above our head carrying  cars filled with coal. We waved and the engineer blew his whistle.

Rockett's Landing brought another surprise. The Nina and the Pinta were docked. We again captured our thinking and perspective sketching in our City Journals. Many of the children's drawings showed the Richmond skyline looming in the background.

We ate lunch near Elina's home and community pool. We all tried to relax in the shade including Baby Sofia and her big brother.

Carter documented the Rockett's Landing neighborhood that borders the James River. It was a great day experiencing this great city that we all call our home. 

Many thanks to the parent photographers contributing pictures to this blog...Molly Booker and Meredith Shields.

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Right to Play

Play and relationship development are the hallmarks of the culture of childhood. As children play together we witness their joys, frustrations, anxieties and intellect. We observe their  openness and flexibility of thought. We notice their ingenuity and resourcefulness.

Piaget, a Swiss educator and philosopher, had it right when he said,
"If you want to be creative, stay in part a child, with the creativity and invention that characterizes children before they are deformed by adult society."

It is vital that we commit to protecting the culture of childhood. This does not mean protecting children from risk, failure or disappointment but rather giving them the space and freedom to be unfettered by our adult intentions, goals, perspectives and fears.

Image result for sabot at stony pointDuring our second Institute, Dr. Ben Mardell, a professor at Lesley University,  discussed the Pedagogy of Play and its role  in helping children problem solve and consolidate their experiences. He reminded us that play supports children sustains their attention and helps them remain focused and engaged in the moment. Play is restorative and reaffirming to children.

I am reminded of this each time the Kindergarten hikes into the Forest and I watch groups of children build structures with campfires burning outside. They scale banks and wade through water deep in the imaginative play that they have constructed with their peers.

Research has shown repeatedly that creativity and a spirit of innovation flows from play. Instead of nurturing and respecting childhood, our culture often desecrates it by letting the adult world seep in too early and quickly. It is hard to tap the imagination if there is a bombardment of visuals and sounds fighting for air time in our inner worlds.

Our school sponsored a forum two weeks aga at Binford Middle School in the Fan. The intention of the forum was to consider the state of the child in our city of Richmond. The panel spoke on so many important and relative things regarding education, community, safety and health. It is overwhelming to hear that so many of our children's basic needs are not being met each day. I experienced this first hand when I taught at a public schools in our city's East end.  We would wonder how to teach a child that had spent the night sleeping in a car.

I think that the piece that Ben Mardell and Lella Gandini brought to the forum was the recognition that there are basic needs of children that are essential to securing this culture of childhood that feeds their soul and their mind. Children need to be heard and their thoughts considered and of course they need to have some time each day to play and connect with their peers. This basic need is not dictated by zip code. It affects all cultures, all races and all socioeconomic levels.  Play is not present in the lives of our children globally.

The International Play Association lobbies around the world for a child's right to play and disconnect for a period from the realities and responsibilities of their lives. I found the following information on their website.

The International Play Association (IPA) has long been concerned about the play rights of children experiencing difficult circumstances or challenging environments. Too many of the world’s children face huge barriers in their everyday environments which mean that they have to snatch their chances to play whenever and wherever they can – and sometimes in considerable danger. In situations of crisis, the disadvantages (such as stress, hampered physical and emotional development, feelings of lack of control, loss of trust, etc.) steadily multiply if children lack everyday opportunities for play.
“Children in crisis situations need to experience the restorative qualities of play.”
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is an international treaty that sets out universally accepted rights for children. It is a benchmark against which a nation’s treatment of its children can be measured. It brings together in one comprehensive code the benefits and protection for children hitherto scattered in a variety of other agreements, including the Declaration of the Rights of the Child adopted in 1959. The UN Convention also affirms that human rights contained in other treaties apply equally to children.
The Convention was officially approved by the United Nations in 1989 and has been ratified by every country in the world but two (currently 194). Ratification of the Convention is a commitment by these nations to comply with the articles of the treaty and thereby to protect and enhance the basic rights of children through their policies, programs and services.
This remarkably comprehensive treaty not only incorporates current thinking with regard to children’s rights but also demands that the world think more deeply about children’s position as citizens and more broadly about their development than has commonly been the case. It asks that we look holistically at children’s lives and hear their own perspectives on issues affecting them.
As a result it is leading many nations to address elements of children’s lives that have hitherto been ignored but that represent our fundamental humanity. One of these – at the heart of children’s lives everywhere – is the right to play.