"Have fun!", "Make new friends!", "Sing a song!" those phrases all land in the beginning of the fun, fun, fun of starting school. But with the rush of new choices, many unknown and hard to plan for, these phrases may sound like barking commands. All that fun, fun (aren't you excited???). Some children are able to take it in stride, even embrace all that fun, and skip and hop through any new adventure, while others are struck with something akin to terror. As I was sending set upon set of labels through the laminator, I thought about how these labels help children find their way around the school without a lot of adult noise. The first set of labels are given to children new to the school at their home visits. The returning children get them in the mail. When they arrive at school, the children will find matching labels under their coat hooks, on their journals, at the snack table, and once completed, on their artwork. That is just one part of the story of setting up school.
So while I was building the labels and journals, I had to give this a good think: Is the school's story told by extroverts?
"'Have a nice day,' is a hideous thing to say to someone," a friend of mine grumbled, "What if I don't want to have a nice day?" This kind of forced jocularity would probably be a pretty good sign that a school's story is shaped by an extrovert. And, as parents and teachers, we really do want our children to have a nice day, to have fun at school and in life. We can't help it.
I understand this struggle between the quiet and the have-a-nice-day. I like the quiet. I have to force myself to speak in large and even small groups and yet I love to talk. I set myself, at school, a challenge to remove strands of conversation or intrusion, so that each can find his or her way. This is what the symbols are all about and there is more to the story (of course!).
Inside the school, we are constantly looking for hidden pockets and corners. We are limited in square footage and ceiling height. We do, of course, find places-- thankfully, the children are quite small and can fit nicely under and on top of tables. Nothing a tablecloth, sheet, or bolt of cloth can't fix! It is outside the school that you can really see the purposeful planning that has shaped a place suited for both extroverts and introverts!
This photograph, "A blank canvas," shows a turning point in the renovation of the playground. The parents demolished a large shed and you can see the outlined shapes of what would become our sandpit, berm, and campsite. The parents took a leap of faith in this design that combined destinations and running space. It is hard to believe that the space was once, only a short time ago, this empty. Just imagine for a minute, how awful a space like this would feel to someone who needed to find the quiet.
The plan all along was to create hidden places. Sometimes these hidden places can be found with a feeling, like seeking the warmth of the underside of our boat on a cool day.
Other spaces are found through plantings.
In any case, I feel like finding quiet should be an unspoken question, but the answer is already there, through something as simple as labeling or in carefully planning the environment. "Fun," is whispered, not shouted to let each child and adult find the way.