Tuesday, August 28, 2018

It's Not A Mess

She pulled the large blocks off the shelf, one by one, dropping them randomly into a pile on the floor.

After the first five or six blocks, I started to speak. “Now that you’ve taken some blocks out, you can start building.” She didn’t respond and continued pulling blocks off the shelf – the long double-unit blocks, making an ever bigger pile on the floor. I started to say something else – a reminder not to take out all the blocks, or an observation she didn’t look like she was building, but I didn’t.

I stopped talking and watched her work.

After taking out every long block – about twenty – and dropping them into a pile, she started to build.

First a foundation, and then walls. She first spaced out the tall blocks evenly to form columns, then filled in the space to create a solid wall.

“Look at this!” she exclaimed. She gathered up cars from a basket and lined them up inside. 

“There’s a lot of cars in there”, another child said. He counted them, pointing to each as he counted. Several other children came over to watch, and to count too.

When they were done counting, she returned to the block pile, picking up blocks to make a roof.

The finished structure bore no resemblance to the pile of randomly dumped blocks that had been on the rug fifteen minutes before. But the structure might not have existed if I hadn’t let her create that pile. As she took block after block of the shelf and dropped it in the pile, the teacher voice in the back of my head kept whispering to me to stop her. She was making a mess, not working. “Okay, you’ve taken enough blocks off the shelf, now it’s time to build”, was on the tip of my tongue.

But it’s not my decision that “it’s time to build”. It’s hers.

What looked like a mess to my teacher eyes at the beginning was her process. Her organization, and her plan. If I used my adult power to stop her process, and put my process in its place, what would I be teaching? That my ideas and my plans are more important than hers? That her concepts and problem solving aren’t valued? Or maybe, that she shouldn’t even seek solutions in the first place, because a person in power will simply direct her.

It wasn’t a mess. It was valuable work. It’s our job to learn to see the difference.