Claudio: Reflections on Harmony as a child-centered school

April 12, 2012

The very first time we had our class go to my house in the woods, the kids scattered on the property and explored. We told them that if they could no longer see the house, they were beyond their boundaries. That worked well. Over the course of the day, alone or in various combinations, the children did what they are best at—they played. They swung on the rope swing (with adult help). They hung out with the chickens and bunnies. They went down to the creek and found geodes and set up a ―geode factory‖ where they broke geodes into smaller pieces. They climbed the ravines. They found a steep slope with a rock surface and slid down it. They found a fallen tree and dug with sticks in its enormous dirt-encrusted root ball. They required minimal help or supervision. There were no conflicts that we know of—at least none that they didn‘t take care of themselves. I think the space they had to ramble in, and the freedom they had to play as they wished, helped them be at their happiest and most cooperative.

Our Early Childhood Program is based on the notion that play is children‘s natural activity and that children learn many things by playing. This does not stop when children turn 6 and ―graduate‖ to first grade. I was forcefully reminded of this last month. A small group of children developed a game they called Crazy Bowling. Everyday during their longer periods of free time they used our maple blocks to build elaborate structures, which usually involved some kind of ramp. They placed blocks upright and used a plastic toy bowling ball they found or a tennis ball to knock the ―pins‖ down. The children had to negotiate, every time they played, the many aspects of the game: how to build, rules of play, how to score, etc. The creativity and social skills involved in all of this do not get developed when grownups lead children in games with fixed rules. Which is why we give the children in our class lots of time for free play, and believe it‘s time as well spent as time spent working on their skills at reading, arithmetic, etc.

Recently I witnessed two very sweet interactions between kids in our class and older students. One break I saw one of our boys being walked down the hall by a fifth grade boy, who had his arm around his younger friend‘s shoulders. He explained that the younger boy had been hit by a ball, and he was taking care of him. Another time one of our girls had lost a new earring. We found the earring, but then couldn‘t get it back into her ear hole. She thought her mom was subbing in the ECP, so we let her go find her just before her cleanup job.

A little bit later, after cleanup, she had her earring in. I asked her about it. She said she had been mistaken about her mom‘s being at school. So I asked her who had put the earring in for her. It was one of her ―partners‖ in her cleanup job, a middle school girl, who had noticed that her younger partner was sad, and asked her why, and then offered to put the earring in for her.
These opportunities for compassion would not occur did we not allow our students the freedom to be with each other, without adults hovering by.

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