by Sarah Sivright
This year’s Bird Art Camp was unusual due to our condensed time frame and smaller group. Because of time limitations, the “deliverables,” as they say in the business world, were more modest. The children did an initial drawing of their birds, then a final, life-size study, and wrote a play about their birds. This summer’s focus was raptors, and we all learned just what a raptor was, along with the specific features of each others’ birds—their physical features and call, diet, habitat, range and migration patterns.
The children were All Seasons alums, either graduates this spring or a year ago. And, as rich as the week was, I was struck by one major theme—what constitutes a school-ready child and how does one nurture such a child? I’m certainly not a neutral observer, but for a week I watched these children show the qualities we all want to see in successful students and healthy human beings, generally. Parents are the main players in this process, of course, but I do think All Seasons has shared a part in the great pleasure I had in being with these children.
Although I was the sole teacher with four students, there were actually five teachers in the classroom that week. Every child asked thoughtful questions, offered information and ideas, and supported each other—all the things a good teacher does. The children even showed evidence of “metacognition,” the ability to be aware of one’s own thinking process. Comments like, “We’re figuring it out!” “Isaac and I have the same idea!” “We solved the problem!” were heard all week.
Resilience and focus were big. Small disappointments were inevitable with our time constraints and their endless ideas and plans. “We don’t have time,” they heard from me many times, when they wanted to play longer, devise complicated props for our play, even add more characters to the play the morning of! We made play dough the first day, voting to make it blue, only to find just green food coloring in the cupboard. Despite groans, a discussion quickly began about how to “make” blue, why we couldn’t, why we could make orange, purple and green, and why some colors are called “primary” and some “secondary.” Quick recovery, and curiosity kicked in. We even laughed at how having one choice wasn’t really a choice at all!
One morning, while we looked through reference books on raptors and worked on our drawings, a full hour had passed, when one of the children put down her marker and said, “I need to stretch.” Then, one after another, “We need a break,” and “It’s time to play.” I was as surprised as they were to find how much time had passed, and how intently focused they all had been on their work.
Group discussions were frequent and we tried to make group decisions as often as possible, listening, taking turns, building on each other’s ideas. Creativity thrived in this environment, even if the day of the show, imaginative props were still being devised and the dreaded “We don’t have time” had to call a halt.
Senior time was limited, but even then, serendipitous meetings upstairs as we all trooped up to check the mail, put up signs for our play, were wonderful to witness. Beloved grandmas and grandpas were spotted and hugged, even if they happened to walk by the classroom windows, and we all had to run out to greet them.
Watching these children show the very qualities they need in school and life gave me joy, and it was clear from their behavior and parents’ reports, that they were having as much fun as I was. I do think we encourage these very behaviors at our school, as you parents do at home. But the crucial piece here for young children, and one that they don’t let us forget, is the importance of play. They develop all these critical qualities—curiosity, resilience, kindness, love of stories, ability to focus, self-regulation, creativity, ability to collaborate—through play. Hopefully, they got enough play at All Seasons, and will keep a place for it in their lives for good.