I work in an afterschool program in an independent school. Each day follows a general overall pattern: snack, time for indoor play/reading/homework, some sort of activity for the day, outdoor play. We've done everything from building and decorating a cardboard city, going on nature hikes, having a scavenger hunt, planting seeds and caring for them, making gak, making homemade ranch dip for trying lots of raw vegetables for snack...you get the picture.
Probably the best part of this program to me is how different it feels from the standardized approach of most childcare and school programs. It is the closest thing one's child could have to playing in a home neighborhood with neighborhood kids and plenty of supportive adults on tap to support their play and keep things safe. Many of us had this experience as children but have seen it disappear from modern life.
Wednesday's activity was making popsicles. The kids prepped and sliced strawberries, squeezed oranges for juice, mixed with simple syrup and blended the mixture in the blender. (I should note the the students are divided into three groups by age, so each group did these tasks in a way that was appropriate to their abilities.) When it was ready, we poured it into paper cups, added popsicle sticks, and put them in the freezer.
The next day, Thursday, was hot. The kids came to aftercare excited about enjoying their homemade snack. But when the afternoon began there was an added treat--the lower school instrumental ensemble was preparing for a concert and was going to do a performance for us--outside. The music room is in a "relocatable" trailer sort-of-thing, with the added bonus of a screened-in porch facing the playground. The instrumentalists were set up there, ready to play.
This is how it went down: older kids helped set up chairs and benches for the audience, and a big blanket was laid out on the grass for younger kids. Then we all had our popsicles while listening to familiar early level tunes such as Hot Cross Buns, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, and Skip to My Lou. The music teacher invited kids to get up and skip to that last one, and, by golly, they did. A flute student played the Star Wars theme as a solo. That was a huge hit with the audience.
We sat in the shade, eating homemade popsicles and listening to music. The frozen treats weren't perfect--we hadn't strained out the strawberry seeds. The music wasn't perfect--it was a beginning ensemble, after all. The seating wasn't perfect--the sun started beating down on the blanket so we got everyone up and moved it into a shadier spot.
What made this such a brilliant event was not perfection. It was (and I cringe to use this word which has been co-opted by the ed reform industry) authentic. It was real life, in the way that childhood should be. On a hot day we had a cool treat that we helped to make ourselves, listened to our friends make music while we sat in the shade, and then we got up and played on the playground.
Each child comes to us needing the real nourishment that comes from real experiences to explore, create, play, share, question, discover. These are the kind of life experiences that help to make us fully human. I could analyze every single component of this to show how valuable it is but--you get it, don't you? The long term investment we make in our children should not be in data collection, strengths finder quizzes, standardized testing and compliance with The System. All of these are false gods.
"You parents--if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead?" (Matthew 7:9)
If our only goal is "college and career ready", we are falling so pitifully short of the mark. We all need to be "living and loving ready", most of all. If we don't make that a priority, we are denying our children the most basic tools for life.
It can begin as simply as a homemade popsicle. I'd like to turn it into a movement. Join me.