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Learning from Children

I am breaking with my intended series on student boredom to reflect on, and share, recent observances that were anything but boring. Children. Children simply being children. What I saw was so moving that it is worthy of disrupting the flow of my posts. I'll get back to the intended topic next week.

I was privileged to attend an outdoor concert this past weekend at a magnificent Oregon coastal resort. The weather was spectacular. The setting was indescribably beautiful. The music was superb. As we sat on the lawn with several hundred of our new closest friends, we were treated to a rare, and delightful experience. One I am grateful for.

I only hope that others in the crowd derived some benefit from an unexpected pleasure that unfolded before our eyes. Perhaps, because I am an educator and have devoted my career to the care and wonder of children, the impact on me was unique. If that is the case, all I can say is that it's unfortunate. Children have a lot to teach us, if we only pay attention.

Here's what I observed and relished. As the music lifted us up, a small gathering of children assembled in front of the stage. Initially, there were four or five of them, between the ages of perhaps four and nine. They immediately found all manner of engagement with the music in ways that were natural, instinctive and uninhibited. They simply felt it. They danced, they tumbled, jumped, ran and chased; with a sense of abandon that suggested they didn't have a care in the world beyond the joy of the moment. They adapted their play as the musical selections changed, altering the rhythm and tempo of their movement and play.

Soon, the initial group was joined by others; each curious and eager to participate in the fun they observed unfolding on the grass. Without exception, each new child was greeted, welcomed and invited to join the festivities. It didn't matter their age, size, manner of dress or skin color. Each, and all, enjoyed equal, unconditional acceptance. I was particularly moved by the experience of a tiny little brown-skinned girl. She was timid and cautious as she approached what was now a circle of play. Without hesitation or deliberation, the circle broke to invite her in - as two larger hands grasped each of her tiny ones.

At one point, a little boy appeared on the lawn with a blue and white inflatable beach ball. While the ball was clearly his, it soon, and easily, became "our ball" as the games expanded to embrace this new element: something so simple and common-place that it became a magnificent part of their play. Eventually, there was a dispute over this toy. The children, big and small, assembled and, literally, "circled" the issue. Without apparent dispute or the need for any adult intervention, the kids fluidly found an acceptable solution to this temporary dilemma and the play resumed. Amazing.

Why should I be amazed? Children are brilliant and are excellent teachers. In a few memorable moments, these "teachers" reminded me of five things:

1) Music is a universal language.

2) Children poses the innate ability to create.

3) Children are natural problem solvers.

4) Children, if allowed, are inclusive.

5) Adults, who frequently hover and interfere, need to get out of the way.

And then, the educator in me kicked in. What should I be learning by watching these children at play? I didn't have to deliberate for long.

  • As an educator, I am a learner first, and a teacher second.

  • Creativity cannot be forced. Rather, it must be allowed.

  • Some children may learn hatred and intolerance, against their basic nature, somewhere. It must never be at school.

  • The role of adults in education is to facilitate and guide, not demand and mandate.

  • Playing / breathing / laughing / learning are natural and should be deliberately incorporated in any learning environment that hopes to be relevant.

In an instance as a learner, I returned to "relevance:" a topic that in my humble, though accurate, opinion is an indisputable key to elevate learning and inhibit boredom. What if these behaviors and attitudes I observed in these children were common in American classrooms? That just might lead us toward The Education Kids Deserve.

Perhaps, this post is more significant in addressing the topic of student boredom than I had anticipated. Kids have a lot to teach us, if we just observe and listen.

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