Their thoughts were fascinating – play as preparation for life, training the muscles of the imagination, thinking out of the box, never losing the child inside, being in the moment all the time….the thoughts poured out of them and I had the feeling that we could have continued this conversation much longer. One thought that Ksenia shared was that at the core of playing is doing things together. It made me think about all that children lost this year when they did not have the opportunity to take part in play with their friends and classmates.
Our conversation spoke to some interesting quotes that I shared during our zoom talk:
“It is a happy talent to know how to play.” Ralph Waldo Emmerson
“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct.” Carl Jung
“In every real man a child is hidden that wants to play.” Friedrich Nietzsche
“If you want to be creative, stay in part a child, with the creativity and invention that characterizes children before they are deformed by adult society.” Jean Piaget
When Fanny Roman, a kindergarten teacher at P.S. 244 Queens, became visibly pregnant, the children were curious and began asking questions and making observations. Their curiosity provoked a class inquiry project, The Baby Study. The project was going smoothly until multiracial baby dolls were introduced. Each child chose a baby doll , concealed in a gift bag, to be their own, and an unexpected reaction to the dolls changed the focus of the study.
It all began at the start of the school year. On the fourth day of school, when the class met on the rug for their morning meeting, Isaiah asked, ” Ms. Roman, do you have a baby in your belly?”
Because we value children’s curiosity, Isaiah’s question became the topic for the closing circle that afternoon
Fanny began by asking,“What do you know about babies?” Some responses were:
Babies cry (Sharon)
They’re cute (Abigail)
They can’t walk (Hayden)
I have a baby (Laura)
They drink milk (Kaitlin)
Babies poop (Kayla)
Babies drink from a bottle (Sebastian)
The classroom environment became more focused on babies. A word wall began to grow.
The room was filled with books about babies. Some books were for read aloud. Some were for “research” and browsing in the various centers.
The children loved reading and re-reading this big, shared reading book when they were gathered on the rug. During Choice Time, some children chose to make diapers, cradles and carriages.
We always accept children’s approximations. When we do this, it encourages children to not worry about being “perfect” and to take risks.
Fanny projected her sonogram on the SmartBoard.
Viewing the sonogram provoked many questions. Some of their wonderings were…
Why was the baby crying?
What else was inside besides the baby?
How was the baby coming out?
Elias decided to show up two weeks early!
Linda, the student teacher, took over.
Linda noticed the children’s interest in what babies could eat so she brought in different jars of baby food for children to taste.
The children recorded their questions about baby food.
The children prepared their own baby food.
They used an IPad to research the steps for making their own baby food.
Fanny was going to bring Elias into school the next day and Linda helped the children prepare to meet Elias for the first time.
Fanny came to school with Elias, showed the children how she changed the baby’s diaper, fed him and answered many of their questions.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could purchase a baby doll for each child to nurture and keep forever? If we had the money, we could buy a class set of multiracial dolls. Robert Groff, the principal, loved the idea and he somehow found the funds to order the dolls. Fanny prepared the children by continuing to read about diverse families and also about adoption. We waited for the dolls to arrive!
THE BABIES ARRIVED!
When I visitited the Early Childhood schools in Reggio Emilia, the philosophy of teaching with a road map rather than a train schedule was emphasized. We had our road map for our study, but suddenly we were taken on an unexpected, but very important detour. Fanny had to listen carefully to her children and provide an outlet for them to express themselves, but she also had to gently show them the possibility of another path.
Watch and listen closely to what children are doing and saying when they are presented with their baby dolls.
Why won’t she touch her brown-skinned doll?
She wouldn’t touch her doll when the children were taking them out of their bags. Here is her journal reflection after a class discussion.
Fanny consulted with Steve Quester, the school’s consultant from the Center for Racial Justice in Education. He advised Fanny to continue her open forum for risk-free class discussions He suggested that she model how the children could nurture their babies such as by rocking them in their arms and singing to them. Steve, Fanny and I believed that the children needed many opportunities to play with their baby dolls during choice time. They also took their dolls home for weekends and holidays. Fanny spoke openly with parents about the study and the way that the baby dolls created a turn in the direction of the project. She encouraged parents to keep up a communication with her and to let her know how children were talking about their “babies” at home.
Here’s a short transcript from a class discussion:
Fanny: How are you feeling about the babies?
Milo: I’m excited.
Fanny: Tell us why.
Milo: Because I have a baby.
Jenny: I am feeling happy and excited.
Fanny: Say more? Why?
Jenny: Because I have a baby. Because I like it. Because it matches my skin color.
Donna : mine too.
Fanny: Say more.
Donna: The baby is so cute. I like it. I’ll keep it. I don’t know how to make a dress, but I can make a paper dress.
Fanny: That sounds like a great idea. Ok! Lou?
Lou: I’m too excited and too happy. The baby. I like the baby is because the skin is just like my skin. Mine is white and this is white. And also, it looks cute.
Fanny: Can I add, I hear that some of you are talking and noticing the skin color.
Lou: And also because I was really close to see the baby outside of the blue cover and I saw some are only blue and some are not. I decided that the blue ones are white skin and some babies on the top have some black. I decided the black one is black skin.
Fanny: Ok so we will come back to that in one second. We are going to give everyone who wants to share a chance.
Ming: I am so happy because I don’t have a baby brother.
Fanny: That’s so sweet! Thank you for sharing. Leb?
Leb: And the paper, I saw over it and I saw blue. And I got this one because it’s the same skin as me.
Fanny: That was a surprise…you all chose your babies and you didn’t know what it looked like.
Leb: But I just saw over the paper.
Lou: But I saw the color. I looked over the color.
Fanny: Oh so you could notice?
Lou: It just had a little black and I didn’t choose it.
Fanny: I’m hearing some feelings about how the babies look and the babies looking like you. Before, we talked about families and how families look. (Goes back to previous discussion before getting the babies)
During Choice Time, children made clothes for their babies.
They decided on the gender of their baby.
Each day two children get to share their baby with the class.
Be kind to babies!
The class had a discussion about baby sitting and daycare after Fanny noticed that some children were randomly leaving baby dolls around the room. The children took this quite seriously!In June, Elias came to school to visit the babies. Where will this study lead the school? Mr. Groff realizes the important issues that were revealed when the multiracial dolls were introduced and he doesn’t want to back off from them. The school continues to work with Steve Quester. Also, this year the baby study will be reintroduced to a new class of kindergarten children and each child will get a baby to “adopt.” It will be interesting to see where this leads. As an aside, the year following the study, Charlene Rivera Cruse, a first grade teacher, told the children from Fanny’s kindergarten class that they could bring their baby dolls to school with them. One boy did not bring his doll. He said that his grandmother threw it away because boys do not play with dolls.
There are so many issues to acknowledge and I feel proud of the teachers at P.S. 244 and the principal, Bob Groff, for embracing this important challenge.