Director's Summer 2011 Letter, Emergent Curriculum

Dear Friends and Families, Dragging the hose around my yard in the August heat, carefully watering each crisping plant, I found myself cataloguing back-to-school supplies. There are absolutely no ostrich ferns, all were burnt to a crisp in July, and only a handful of dried daylily stalks, not even enough to fill a small tray, much less sort into groups of five. I moved to the roses, the blooms long gone, but the plant still needs water. As I stood there, I looked at the mounds of fountain grass to my right and thought, “Oh that’s good, there are plenty of ornamental grasses to harvest for bird nests.”

Then I remembered… bird nests are so last year. Tracks 2011 was big on shelters. A small cohort had named the structure in the very back, “The Kitty House” when they were three and that was the name that stuck, even though it served all kinds of purposes, jail, fairy house, bad guy lair, etc. Only that class called it the Kitty House, the Leaves and Bugs called it something different. During the Spring, they began to make nests. They used sand, bits of artificial flowers, and the handful of grasses from the play yard. Seeing that something cool was taking place—these kids built visually stunning nests, who wouldn’t want to see more?—I harvested my own grasses (ornamental grasses were big in the 80s and I have A LOT of varieties) and brought them in for the children to use. Just in case you think children need fancy toys for birthdays and special occasions, think again.

The joy that met these armfuls of grasses coming into the play yard was thrilling. Without words, I dumped the piles and immediately bunches were dragged to various nest perches and most of these were carried in children’s mouths, better known as beaks. That was unexpected, yet made perfect sense. How else would a bird-child carry important components for their nests?!? Later I brought in the fern fronds and these were also met with the same joy and woven in immediately. The nest building began in Spring and extended all the way to the first hints of Summer heat. Of course! The hatchlings had flown.

Each year, each class has its own groupthink. The last time we had big, big nest building was during the Spring of Tracks 2004 (Cicada Brood X), but then it was a little different. It was more about bird calls, finding the very highest perches, and shaping family units. Other years, there have been threads of games and interests that lead the play and this is the real joy—that children find their way and it is our job to quietly observe and then occasionally provide the tools and accompaniment to make their play soar. Years 2004 through 2011 did not suffer from lack of nest building. Each year, in fact, features the most excellent imaginary play, from birds to superheroes to dead princesses. Our children are never at a loss for something to do and this is the beauty of responsive teaching. We build our school nest, feathered with child-familiar experiences and materials, and then we fly, fly, fly to bring back the essentials that our little nestlings need and that we never even knew were possible options.

The difficult part for adults is that we cannot fully shape and share our plan for the children until we see their play and interests unfold. We cannot expect that every class will be the same. There will be subtle, yet meaningful and wonderful differences. We do not know the hiccups in advance. We do know that there will be hitting, probably biting, lots of meltdowns, beautiful art, eventual sharing, laughter, as well as stories to tell with dramatic highlights and lowlights, and lots and lots of supported growth!

The same holds true for our parent teacher experience. This year, the School will enjoy a majority new family population joining us with their oldest/first children. While your co-op team member will probably not bite you, all of us will be finding and defining our own co-oping story and writing the next chapter of the Cooperative School’s history. Learning how to co-op cannot be crash coursed, crammed in, or gleaned from a hand-out—it is learned over time, in the classroom, on the play yard , and play dates you arrange on your own. I have been part of this lovely School community for years and I am still learning new things about the how to be in the classroom!

While we cannot fully define each parent’s—or child’s—school experience in advance, we can fall back on the structure that has been shaped over the 70 years the Cooperative School has been around. The Handbook is helpful. The Committee Descriptions are helpful. Meetings are helpful. We have our Member Support parent and your child’s teacher there to answer questions -- on the spot at meetings, during your co-op day, or via email. Mostly though, it is about trust and time—trust that your experience will unfold over time just as your child’s experience will unfold over time. We must all embrace that messy, yet lovely, arc of development.