Second in a series of guest posts from current and former parents of the Cooperative School. These were written as part of a fundraising campaign by our Development Committee. The posts are treasures, each one. This one was written by Danielle Veith who also blogs at Crazy Like a Mom.
"There is an old faded green plastic wagon on the playground at the school right now. I'm sure I would have thrown it away ages ago. I don't know which ingenious parent donated it or what trash heap Lesley or Andrea pulled it out of, but the first few times I saw it...Well, let's just say, I was not inspired to do more than kick it to the curb.
Of course, the kids love it. The front wheels point out to the sides like a tripping ballerina, making it hard to push or pull. So, when asked to pull two of our biggest Bugs around our school yard, I had two reason for saying no -- I didn't want to. And, they should be doing it themselves anyway, right?
I suggested they try pulling each other around, which they did, good-naturedly as they are at this lovely age. For a minute. Until they realized that the littlest ones were not getting anywhere with the biggest ones in the wagon and those kids were not about to give up up their suddenly royal seats.
And, then out of nowhere, PJ appeared. For those alums of the pre-PJ era, I'm sorry. She has added to the school in a way that really completes the kids' experience. She helps them find their bodies and learn what they can do with them.
My older child, a grad of Tracks 2013, now a big kindergardener, is a girl. And not just a girl, but a feathering-the-nest, making everything beautiful because she's always preparing for the next party kind of girl. The most heartbreaking thing she ever said to me, in tears, was, "Mommy, I'm not strong." PJ encouraged her to try things she didn't think she could do and that I may not have pushed her on, and she learned that her body can do some pretty amazing stuff.
If you know Lesley, you won't be surprised that when my husband and I asked her advice on keeping up with our daughter's natural curiosity about learning to read she told us, "Help her find her body in the world." Um, huh? "When she learns to read, which you won't be able to stop her from doing, she will need to pay attention to where her body is even more [and I may be paraphrasing here] because she is gonna be bumping into walls."
Lesley can point you to articles if you want to know more about how learning to cross the midline, learning where your body ends and all that gross motor stuff they do, wires your brain in ways that need to happen before you learn to read. I won't try to do that here. Come to the Garden Party and ask her.
Back to the shabby wagon and this year's Bugs class... When PJ appeared, she quietly placed four blocks to make a rectangle, the kids already gathering out of curiosity. What was she doing? I wondered, too. Well, what she did was to take the wagon and put it up on the blocks and tell the kids that it was broken and must be repaired.
This was early in the year in the two-year-old class. The kids still very much in the parallel play stage, if that. But when a wagon needs to be repaired, well, that's something that is going to require help from everyone. My son, the tool and truck obsessed little person that he is, stepped right up. Very soon, little Bugs came from every corner of the playground and worked (so nicely!) together on that wagon. It was in very bad shape -- it needed gas, lots of gas, and oil and several mechanics were required to slip their bodies under and explore what was going on down there. Wrenches were needed. And, hammers. Obviously.
Those two and three year old boys and girls were fully engaged in this dramatic play, together, until the bell rang and they bounced on over to Dragon Line to head home. It was simply one of many days that the dramatic play that happens in Imagination Station spilled out into the playground. Even for the littlest Bugs. And it was one of many days when I gratefully realized how much I learn from playing with the kids (and grown-ups) in this special community.
I would have never thought of putting a wagon on blocks. I may not have known how important it was to focus my early reader on feeling strong in her body. But now I do. And both of my kids are better off for what I have learned.
Our family is leaving the school this year. Don't ask about it, I'll just cry. After more than 5 years at home, and three with the school, I headed back to the work world and we can't get by without aftercare and all that unpleasant stuff.
Someday (not soon enough for us!) the school will grow into a larger new space with an even more fabulous playground, and even more fully imagined dramatic play space, and there will be things like aftercare. And this community will be open to more parents and more kids who can't make it work as is.
Those kids - and their parents - have no idea that their best days are going to involve broken wagons."