Night Scene 2 (Simon Dinnerstein)
Today was the first day back in school after Hurricane Sandy for New York City children. The devastation is difficult for adults to process. What, then, are the children thinking? How are they making sense of the way that their world has turned upside down?
This disaster followed, by only two days, an incredible trip to Reggio Emilia, Italy that I took along with 67 other educators. We visited schools, spoke with teachers and parents, attended lectures and spent hours in small groups attempting to process this exciting experience.
It will take me awhile to clarify my reflections on all that I observed. However some words and personal interpretations flash in my mind as though they are lit up in neon: “Belief in children”, “valuing the childish words of children”, “constructivist approach to teaching.” I wonder how the educators in Reggio would deal with this storm that we have just experienced? How did they help their children puzzle out the destruction done by the recent earthquakes in their region?
Yesterday, over lunch, Bill Fulbrecht, kindergarten teacher at P.S. 321 and I spoke about this with regard to the children in his class. I asked Bill if the experience in Reggio would influence how he would broach the topic with his students. “Absolutely,” he replied. He told me that he wanted to start totally with their thoughts. Perhaps it’s not the scientific background that will interest them or the force of the water. Our neighborhood lost many trees during the storm. Huge, old trees were uprooted. Bill thought that this might be what could upset his children the most. How do the trees feel? What is it like to be pulled out of the ground?
He was planning on inviting discussion by asking some broad, open-ended questions. He was going to then follow the lead of the children in pursuing the topic. I’m so curious to speak with him about where this line of inquiry led them.
Earlier today I received the following email from Lucas Rotman, a wonderful kindergarten teacher who’s school is in Battery Park City, an area that was terribly flooded during the storm: “During the hurricane, I was e-mailing back and forth with the families of my kids who live in Battery Park City, an area that was evacuated and knew that the families were dealing with a lot of stress in regards to the storm. I was also listening to NPR quite a bit and they had a number of child psychologists and educators on discussing ways in which parents could talk with their kids about events of this nature and also gave tips about how to use this the time they had together when power goes out (games, story writing, chapter book reading, etc.). I did not see many resources for teachers of young children however in terms of helping kids share their feelings (the sesame street episodes were decent though) and in terms of discussing the science behind hurricanes and storm surges in a way that doesn’t overwhelm and is developmentally appropriate.”
Perhaps the most important resources are the teacher’s ability to listen to the words of the children, observe carefully their drawings, constructions, dramatic play and schoolyard play, and provide opportunities for children to find creative and personal outlets for voicing their thoughts, interpretations, theories and questions.
This is an opportune time for all of us to use this space for sharing suggestions, strategies and questions. I look forward to hearing from you.