Thursday 19th July 2012
These stones sit in a bed of bark chippings and lead through the green area between our junior and infant buildings at school. We often take our children out to walk along the stones, to play games, balance and help each other step over the wide gaps between each stone. On one side of the stepping stones is a smooth tarmac path and on the other, a small grassy area, that due to our heavy clay soil, is frequently (this term anyway) waterlogged and boggy.
Sometimes, and unsurprisingly recently, the wet weather makes our tarmac pathway impassable, with two metre wide puddles that can reach over and into a five year old’s welly boot. Impressive flooding. Despite various different attempts at drainage, the massive puddles remain and the stepping stones then become the most practical method of navigating this area.
They don’t look like the best way to get from A to B. Not the quickest or simplest. Big flat slabs of stone, some are smooth with wear and some are rough. The end stone is polished, partly by design and partly by bottoms that like to slide down it to land in the bark chippings. I would be lying if I said that I had never tried that myself: it is a very pleasing method of getting from one end of the pathway to the other. A little challenge to hop along: don’t put your feet down in between!
I like the fact that sometimes what looks like the silliest way to get somewhere at one moment can be the most practical at another. I love the fact that I sometimes watch parents and four year olds climbing over the stones, and I love that the fun route becomes the sensible route. Other days I hear parents berating their children, “Hurry up! We don’t have time for the stepping stones today!”
Today was the penultimate day of term, of our school year, and we have spent most of this week concentrating on having fun. I think my school is pretty good at keeping the fun throughout the year, not just in the last weeks of term or on special events. But even when it’s central to what you believe, the hoops that we have to jump through, rigorous hoops set there by government agencies and which are imperative not to fail…those hoops can sometimes take a lot of the joy out of teaching and learning.
I believe what I think most teachers believe fundamentally, but what is so hard to do in our current educational climate: we learn when we are happy, when learning is relevant to us, when it is interesting and when we are having fun. Learning at a young age should be safe but exciting. There should be some risk, while each child should feel safe and confident to take the risks there. All our children should be happy in school, should feel loved and valued. They should be happy to go to school, keen to be there and confident that they are a vital piece of the jigsaw puzzle. And we as teachers must remember that the most important thing we do is to facilitate learning, not impart knowledge. Children will learn despite us. We need to be the people that show the different ways, the tarmac path, the swampy grass, the stepping stones and help our children to be able to make independent choices.
And wouldn’t it be wonderful if the fun way was always the best way? I try to do that when I teach and I try to do that when I work. I forget this when I am off duty and I almost always forget this when I am thinking about myself and my own choices. The fun way can be the best way, the sensible way. We are allowed to enjoy what we do. We are allowed to be happy and we are allowed to make those choices that most directly influence our happiness.
Obvious really. Except that I am rubbish at doing it, stupidly enough. I get preoccupied with making the RIGHT choice and the BEST decision and being SENSIBLE. I try to look at everything from every possible angle and by doing so, I often miss the most important viewpoint of my life. Which is my own view point, of course. Stupid! I know I do it because I fear that I am not sensible enough. That I am childish at times, because I want to have fun and I want to be happy and want everyone around me to have that same joy. So I worry that if I base my decisions on my instinct, then I am going to doom myself and my children to some silly consequence, something dreadful and NON-SENSIBLE. Saying it out loud is making me think again.
I am so fearful, so often, that if I don’t take the sensible route, that I won’t make the best decisions for my kids, for me, as an adult. I realise that adulthood to me doesn’t equate instinctively with fun. That is a shame. Perhaps that is what I love in my job, working with children of three and four and five and six and seven. Fun is what it’s all about. And I am good at that with them, good at enjoying the moment in that part of my life. Just not so good at it for off-duty me.
I think I need to stop feeling guilty about choosing to walk along the stepping stones, just because they are there. I think I am allowed to take the fun route sometimes. Doesn’t have to always be the tarmac and path, and sometimes, I am telling myself, the stepping stones are the better way.