Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Best Day of My Life

This may sound silly but today a kid said, “This is like the BEST DAY OF MY LIFE.”  Truly.  I’d never heard him say that before, so it’s not like he is one who constantly speaks in superlatives (a trap I fall into occasionally). 


Interestingly, today was not so different from many days, although each day is unique.  We do have these wonderful caterpillars in our science area.  Tomato hornworms.  We’ve had them less than two weeks and they’ve grown from the size of a grain of rice to the size of my thumb.  Every day when we look at them we can’t believe how big they are and how fast they grow. We keep wondering how long it will be until they become cocoons.  They are bright green and tight-plump.  We have had fun cleaning out their frass (a scientific name for caterpillar poop) so we can tell when to transfer them to the next enclosure (when they stop frassing they will soon become cocoons).  But I don’t know if they are such a big deal to qualify this as the best day of someone’s life.


In writing workshop we are working on “living with our writer’s notebooks.”  We had a pretty long time to just write.  It felt free and unbridled.  The kids are writing whatever they want.  Some are writing memoirs, others songs and poems.  Some are writing science fiction fantasy, the most popular genre among my boys.  The little one who declared this his happiest day wrote a lot during workshop.  It may have been the most he’s ever written in that amount of time.  I didn’t get a chance to read it with him but I did congratulate him for being so focused.  But that alone couldn’t have been what made this his best day. 


Right before lunch the class next door came over and sang a song with us.  It is from a simple poem called “Love That Boy” by Walter Dean Meyers set to a standard blues progression.  My class has known the song for a while but our second grade friends just learned it.  And when they came over to our room this morning we were ready to sing.  Their teacher, Chris, played the song slower than we were used to so we followed their lead.  Over 40 voices singing this soulful blues song in one classroom.  Everyone was focused, every voice clear.  It sort of took my breath away.  Then Chris’ second graders sang an original song they had just written together.  It was fine.  My class could feel it.  I’m not sure that’s what made my friend’s day so special but it sure worked for me. 


After lunch, our student teacher, Tammy, led the kids in a pretty exciting measurement investigation.  They were all over the room, measuring and estimating and recording in cm and mm.  Afterwards they sat in a circle and Tammy led the debriefing.  It was fun and engaging, very social and active and there was a ton of learning going on.  I don’t know if it would contribute to someone’s best day… but it was pretty cool. 


Our next activity was cursive handwriting.  I know, I know, it sounds like the driest, most boring part of the day.  And it could have been.  We watched this cheesy video segment.  It’s thirty or forty years old.  The theme music is so late 60’s early 70’s musak.  But the kids have been chomping at the bit to learn cursive.  I’ve been writing on the board in my best cursive since the middle of last year so they could learn to read it and could become used to seeing me write that way.  Some have been writing their names in cursive off and on for a while, but this was our first official week, our first few cursive letters. 


We watched the first installment of the video on Wednesday.  The instructor on the tape (Virginia Henderson – who is totally ambidextrous and has scary-perfect handwriting) started the class off by teaching how to sit properly, how to tilt the paper and the correct way to hold the pencil.  She demonstrated her eerily perfect handwriting for us and had us make some letter-like cursive marks.  There was disappointment after the first segment.  Where was the cursive?  The kids were wondering, “Won’t we EVER learn to write in cursive?”


Today, the kids learned their first three letters: i, t and u.  After practicing these letters several times (while using the proper writing posture and holding the pencil correctly), Virginia taught us our first word.  You guessed it.  it.  You would have thought that it was gold.  The kids were joyful.  it.  There was no exploration involved, no inquiry.  It was that passive learning/direct teaching that I try to avoid.  No social interaction.  Just it.  it. 


It was after we collected the papers and were transitioning to our next project that we heard the little guy pronounce this his favorite day ever.  It occurred at one of the few really quiet times of the day.  You know those times. It just happens by chance. There is just a coincidental hush.  When you don’t mean to, but you speak into momentary silence and it seems like your voice is amplified.  Think Owen Meany for a moment.  He didn’t intend for his pronouncement to be as loud or as forceful as it was… but there it was. 


“This is like the BEST DAY OF MY LIFE!”  We all smiled and looked at each other.  There may have been a “Wow,” or a “Really?”  Then we headed off to computer lab to do research on our endangered animals project. 


Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see life, to live life, from the perspective of a young child?  Wouldn’t it be great to be so taken with learning something new that you could declare this the best day of your life?  I can’t remember the last best day of my life.  Was it the day our Colin was born?  In retrospect maybe.  But I was too worried about Heidi and the Caesarian she’d just gone through.  Was it moving to our new house?  There was too much work packing and unpacking that day and worrying about the mortgage was in the mix.  Devin’s adoption day? Moving to SC?  Our wedding day?  Graduating from college?  All of these were best days in retrospect.  They were all wonderful, life-changing events.  But when you are a grown-up the amazing and the wonderful are all mixed up with worries and pressures and angst. 


How wonderful to have the sweet innocence of a child who might see a school day, not so very different from most school days, as the best day of his life.







I think I may have finally discovered what I want to be when I grow up.  A child.


Gloria (The Mamafamilias) said...

Okay, I loved this post. It put me back to the few years that I was a Kindergarten teacher assistant and witnessing the light that would come on for them as they caught on to something they had been working to learn. It makes me wish I had gone back to school to become a certified teacher like I told myself I would do when I finished putting my own children through college. I loved your last line that you want to be a child when you grow up. I know exactly what you mean. Even when they push your buttons, even when they wear you out, they come up with that little something that reminds you of why you're there and why you love it. For some reason, it brought to mind one of my favorite poems, "The Little Boy and the Old Man" by Shel Silverstein. (Except I don't know why I do that to myself, being a girlie girl and all, it makes me cry every time I read it).

Anyway, thanks for making us part of these moments.

Kelly said...

Loved the post! It is amazing how children can find the magical in the ordinary, isn't it? I love to watch my niece, when she gets so absorbed in something she forgets everything else around her. The thing is, it is usually a smaller, 'pretend' version of whatever I'm doing; the difference being she thinks its the most exciting thing she's ever done, and I'm just trying to get it done and over with. It makes you wonder if the world really takes that out of us, or if we take it out of ourselves. The funny thing is, though, that way of looking at life seems to be one of those things that, once you realize you've got it, it's gone, because part of the whole thing is not knowing there is any other way to see the world. Anyway, enough of my philosophy for the time, loved the post, thanks for sharing, and tell the children to take good care of the caterpillars.

Room 730 said...

I am curious about the cursive program you used with your students. I have an incomplete set of the cursive series with Virginia Henderson and would like to track down the rest of the segments if I can. Were your sets purchased or recorded as they aired? Thanks so much!