Monday, August 20, 2012

Endings and Beginnings

One of my favorite endings, to any book, is Maurice Sendak's Where The Wild Things Are. "And it was still hot." The line refers to Max's dinner, left for him in his room. A simple, declarative, beautiful ending that opens a perfect door for discussion. Especially for the older children in my class, who obsess over things being "for real or pretend". They love engaging in pretend play together, but when it comes to books or new information from teachers, they always ask me for a concrete answer. "For real or pretend?"Sometimes, when I'm telling them we're going to nap all day, or about the Dark Elves living in the woods behind our school, I answer "Pretend", pleased to see that my answer doesn't at all hinder their interest. Other times, I feel torn.

Even as an adult, I feel like the land of the wild things is very much a real place. Its the place I went as a child when I couldn't contain the whirlwind inside of me (and the times I was sent to my own room for dinner). Its the place I went as an angry, apathetic teenager. Its the place I went when my father died and my heart broke in ways I never imagined it could. The land of the wild things is a space for physical exertion and stretching of imagination, a place where children reign and monsters obey. All children deserve that place, but even more, they deserve to come home to dinner, still hot. They deserve to be forgiven for the wild thing that so many of their parents have forgotten or suppressed.

Next week, six of my students will move on to Kindergarten. Three new children will join our classroom, two from our toddler room and one completely new. As our 5 year olds move on, our room will change in ways I can't even begin to imagine now. As a preparation for this transition, our 5 year olds are forgoing nap this week to get used to a school day. Today I got to work with them while their friends rested. We began our play with a letter game, but quickly moved on to fabric markers and felt. When the children found a googly eye in the marker bag, we dug out the hot glue gun and some other decorations. One of them requested a crown, and soon all 5 were busy building castles out of blocks, wearing their crowns. Soon, as always happens with my current class, the physical energy got too high to be cooped up indoors. Once we'd cleaned up the gross motor space, I grabbed the pool noodles they love playing with and we went out to the front lawn. We noodle fought, raced, sang and wrestled on the grass and certainly enjoyed the wild rumpus.

When I think about the children I teach moving on to new schools and communities, I am generally confident that they are prepared for the world ahead. Mostly, I worry if the world ahead is prepared for them. As academic goals inch further downward, children are afforded significantly less time and encouragement to explore their wild places. Many become afraid of those spaces inside themselves, after having had to deny them. As a teacher I rarely feel like my job is to "teach" the children in my class anything. I encourage them, cuddle them, reassure them, sing to them, trust them, and often mediate between them. I do all of these things, because in exchange I am granted a day pass to the wild spaces inside them, a small peek into their bustling, growing brains. And on the journeys that are too rough and deep for me to join in on, I am waiting on the other side. With their dinners, still hot.