In our Veteran’s Day holiday class, our small group started off digging in a field of golden leaves. (They were too pretty to pass up!) Then they practiced “cannonballs” into the purple sled to launch it down the wood chip pile. Soon after, many different sized pop-up tents became a “neighborhood of tents.” They played out the social distancing all around us by claiming only two people were allowed in the tent at one time. Except for one diligent structure-builder, they abandoned the tents to take up a game of breaking rocks open to find crystals. They asked, how do you break this rock? “Do you have something hard?” “Maybe another rock!” “But I almost hurt my toe.” So they gave warnings to move back. Then they took turns, warning each other every time to stand way back, farther, farther… Who’s going to break it open? When it finally broke, they ran to it like a piñata. “What’s inside?” Crystal, granite—"it’s like rubble.” All the while, in the background, the builder was trying multiple ways to put the tents together into a large house. Once the rock was open, the other kids joined him, and tied the tents just right to make a structure that could stand, one they could enter and exit without destroying.
It was awe-inspiring to watch their tenacity and innovation with the tent house! They had to experiment for probably an hour over the course of the class to finally get something they could use as a structure. And did you see the layers in the rock game? First, there was a question they worked together to answer—how can we break open this rock? Then, when there was risk to their solution—hurt toes or fingers—they solved that problem with empathy for each other by issuing warnings and making sure everyone got a turn. They kept at the rock pounding for more than half an hour, determined to find out what was inside the rock. Their joy at finding small crystals, granite and rubble was infectious!
None of those questions, solutions or investigations were adult-led. The kids followed their interests and by doing so, they naturally learned and practiced multiple academic and life skills:
1) complex social skills such as deep listening, negotiation, turn-taking
2) gross motor skills such as heavy work, lifting and tossing
3) science skills such as posing an inquiry, making a hypothesis and testing it
4) “soft” skills such as confidence in their own ideas, resilience when encountering complications and perseverance through initial failure and
5) literacy skills as they narrated their goals, their process, their story of creating a neighborhood and then a house they could all share.