Now that I’ve got this blog going, I will cherry pick different experiences from here and there throughout my career. Today I will be recounting an interesting experience I had with a most interesting little boy. This little boy is the most polite, well mannered five year old I have ever met. However his beautiful heart is paired with impulse control issues, a lack of social understanding, and sensory processing issues. I will refer to him as Lucas.
It was a fairly normal Wednesday morning. My student had a minor meltdown saying goodbye to mom, but was easily quelled by the idea of having the hose in the sandpit. The transition out of the sandpit into the classroom was a bit of challenge, but sand timers are basically magic when it comes to transitions. During group time we are up and down, as per usual. He chooses to sit with the class for a little while though which is a huge win. After group time, it is time to choose jobs for the morning. In the class there is a white board with an array of different pictures of activities. Alongside the pictures are laminated print-outs of everyone in the class’ name. Each student takes their name and places it under the job they wish to complete that morning. This is an excellent example of how universal design can benefit every child in the class. When the class is prompted to choose their jobs, Lucas runs out of the classroom.
I give Lucas a little space, then follow him outside. I find him running around the playground. I ask Lucas if he would like to do some construction. Interested by this new word he says “what’s a construction”? Now following me, we are inside looking at the jobs board. On the board is a picture of a real life building that is under construction. Our conversation goes on, “construction is a big building” etc. After my first request for Lucas to do the job, he tells me that it is too loud in the class and he can’t do the construction. I ask if he wants to build his outside, Lucas yells “yes”! We head to the shed to choose our blocks, Lucas only chooses the red ones. We talk about different buildings around town, and his house, and how many colours they have. If I were to simply start giving him different coloured blocks, there’s a good chance they would start getting thrown across the yard. By relating the concept of different coloured blocks to Lucas in a concrete way, he himself decides that they would be a good idea. So now we have all the blocks out but Lucas refuses to build; he says “Mr. Corrie, I don’t know how”.
Knowing Lucas like I do, I know he is trying to get me to build the project for him. On other occasions there has been a genuine lack of skill present; but not this one. The problem is, there was no planning stage. Often with kids like Lucas (and all kids for that matter) might refuse a task because they lack the understanding or they lack the language. For example in this case, Lucas told me he didn’t know how to build. Now he might have meant “I don’t know what to build”. This was probably due to the vagueness of the job. So I initiate a conversation about a simple construction; in this case a tower. Lucas is an avid tower builder. We talk about how tall a tower we can make. Lucas heads off to build his tower. He discovers that while building the base of his tower, he has already built a wall. When he realised this, he became increasingly excited proclaiming “look Mr. Corrie, it’s a wall”! The rest of his efforts are sunk into building this massive wall. It gets so big it actually sections off half of the playground. All this time I am simply observing and taking notes, Lucas does not ask me for help once. This is a massive feat for him. By morning tea, Lucas has independently built a wall approximately 3 feet high by 20 feet long. We take photos of him with his construction and he tells me all about it using beautiful expressive language. Lucas is very proud of himself. I am also proud of him.
The next part was the coolest thing ever. Not only has Lucas undergone and completed this massive physical task, but now his peers have noticed. Commenting “cool wall Lucas” and such. His friends start asking to come into his wall area and play. Lucas says “yes”! Now Lucas and about five peers build a door to let people in and out of the sectioned off area of playground. This area they are now referring to as their clubhouse. This construction job has just evolved into a shared role play that lasts the majority of the morning. They play moms and dads, dogs, etc. More positive social interaction takes place in this morning than the entirety of the term. The wall changes and evolves with the play, and Lucas does not mind. He is listening to his peers ideas, only getting frustrated a handful of times. Up until this point Lucas has only been truly comfortable with parallel play, and role playing on his terms. This was such a positive step for his confidence and how he is perceived amongst his peers.
A scenario where it would have been so easy to get frustrated at Lucas for running off turned into a great opportunity for social growth, fine/gross motor practice, and fluid reasoning. Technically the building job on the board that morning was meant for the inside blocks. If I would have pushed this I would have been fighting Lucas’ sensory processing the whole time. Modifying the task to suit the child, not modifying the child to suit the task is what brought about this chain of positive events. Lucas and I were very lucky to be in such a flexible school with a truly understanding classroom teacher. Furthermore this was a great example of how within the Reggio Emilia design you are never truly committed to one learning outcome. With a growth mindset focused on organic play and self-directed learning, more experiences like this are bound to happen for every student.