I created some simple stations in my library over the last few weeks. I added a Lego wall to help children discover and imagine. I added a stack of magazines with notepaper next to them to invite kids to explore and learn three new facts. I allow students to sign into the computer on site called Code.org, to encourage inventiveness through simple computer commands and programming. I added a simple jigsaw puzzle to foster hand eye coordination and to help fire the children’s cerebellum, which is responsible for shaping human movement.
When children are denied the most basic of needs in life; that of food, safety and shelter a child will fail to thrive. These basic needs have been recognized and addressed throughout history, many times over. Other needs to be met causing children to thrive (or not) are stability, emotional support, consistency, structure, and above all, love.
My students have been so excited for these new stimulations here in the library. They want to play with Legos, search through the magazines, explore MineCraft, and the puzzle is drawing them all day long. Yet, it’s been breaking my heart at the same time. Their Lego exploration has involved rifling through the pieces and taking out the little people and putting them over and over again onto the wall. They are not creating new buildings or inventions, but they are fascinated by the characters and pieces already built. They want to tear the free cards out of the magazines and look at the pictures, but the fact writing is not appealing to them. Mine Craft is a game they love to play at home, but using the simple code and building features provided in Code.org to create a game of their own has them frustrated and stumped. The jigsaw puzzle is the most heart-breaking of all. The concept of matching pieces based on shape and color has them baffled. They take the pieces that are already together and try to fit them into other pieces; the concept of color matching is just not familiar to them. Their patience levels are inherently low. I do recognize it’s all new, and it takes time…Rome wasn’t built in a day, so to speak. Still…. I recognize their unfamiliarity with these activities and I know my recognition goes deeper than their lack of patience and ability. It’s about the basic things they’ve gone without, and how deep that goes; how that contributes to their academics as well. They are children who can and will learn. The expectations and comparisons surrounding them pair them with children all over the country who have far different advantages.
I am not giving up on these ideas. I do need a different approach to them; more clear directions, less of a free-for-all; more guidance. They cannot be expected to explore if they have never been allowed to do so without constraint. The experiment has been a success, if only to guide me to look for new ways to keep these stations going and to continually encourage the students to stimulate their brains and work on hand-eye coordination. The student’s enthusiasm is wonderful to see; I just need to find a way to help them keep that enthusiasm and not dismiss these fun activities as mundane or too difficult.
At the same time, my heart feels the hurt of these little lives, with their basic needs as human beings not being met advantageously so far in their short lives. A lack of real play, a lack of simple things denied to them that are causing in them this lack of desire to play, or even the knowledge they can master the smallest of tasks. It’s a huge job, this educational undertaking. To be an educator today in this world we already know is difficult. To be an educator in a school, one of the lowest of over 130 in this district is even more difficult. To educate kids who have not been given a chance to thrive, but are to be expected to academically proficient according to every other child in the state; that is the challenge on hand today. This simple experiment in my library has been discouraging, and I understand why so many have given up. At some point it becomes about self-care. This is a heavy weight to bear.