I'll admit that in the days leading up to the first day of school my typical case of nerves was brewing in my belly. How do we make sure our returning students welcome our new students? How do we keep children spanning so many ages engaged in meaningful work? Where are my children (the second and third graders) going to do their math work when we don't have tables or chairs?!
The first day arrived. This rush of child energy filled all the empty spaces in the school, and I settled into the rhythms of the day. The questions I asked are answered in part. We spend lots of time nurturing community and help our returning students see themselves as mentors in kindness. We set up opportunities for learning. observe what's happening, and change our set up as needed. My math class, armed with clipboards, paper, and pencils, started measuring themselves and the room so we can build some tables.
The Fruit Store
We have all sorts of fruit trees around our school: plums, peaches, pears, and apples. The children immediately started gathering them, using various materials to make picking tools for tall fruits, and wanted to start a store. They made the first sign on the pavement, "Apple for Sale and Peaches" and were pedaling fruits out of the back of one of tricycles. Then they pulled our puppet theater over to set up a more permanent stand and made a new chalk sign on the top. They talked about pricing, store hours, and staffing issues. Children took apples to the playhouse and set up a tasting room on our large blocks. And everyone feasted on all of the tasty fruit.
Creating a kind community is an on-going focus of our school, but we make an extra push this time of year to set up healthy patterns. Theresa read Have You Filled a Bucket Today? to the class. It uses the idea that each of us carries an invisible bucket. When we say something kind to someone, we help to fill her bucket. The children brainstormed ideas for how they could show their appreciation and love for people in their lives. To make everything a bit more concrete, everyone made buckets. We used tissue paper bits to represent some of the kind thoughts and actions we have for each other. The children moved around the room, smiling and greeting each other and dropping bits of tissue paper into buckets. When someone mentioned her bucket was running low (because she had given so many of her bits away), lots of children zoomed over to make sure that her bucket was full again. By the time we were done, there was a collective glow in the room, and as we transitioned into lunch, I could hear that kindness continue.
I know that our bucket work is just the beginning, and we'll be re-visiting these ideas throughout the year. I like to think that by the time they're adults, our children will have fully internalized kindness as a way of life and create communities for themselves where it's the norm.