Lingering as the Classroom Door Closes

Thursday morning I packed their alphabetized files into a box and handed them to the next grade. The first act of the last day with my students.

Thursday morning they walked into their classroom, in pajamas, carrying board games and stuffed animals.  We started as usual, with a circle question and literary choice. They blogged and read picture books, worked on their writing in google docs. And then, slowly the board games came out. Groups of students naturally formed. Chess, Sorry. Mancala, Apples to Apples. A group began construction of a dinosaur world on the carpet. Beside them, Twister’s plastic sheet of dots was placed, In the corner, the group of Rubik’s cube enthusiasts spun the geometrics into solid sides of red, yellow, blue, green, white, and orange.  The noise levels rose and fell. Natural rhythm and a sense of calm filled the room. All were at play. Negotiating their space and the rules, kids at their best.

This class. This year. Each child with their own set of needs and wants had times when they did not get along. Yet today, they meshed perfectly. Choosing the game, finding someone to play with. Taking turns. Two times I’m asked to intervene. Other than that they take care of the business of play. They are experts in no need of assistance.

Watching this community of cooperation and calm, I couldn’t help but wonder, how to capture this in the daily life of a classroom. We did group work across all subject areas but based on my classroom survey and daily observations, working in a group isn’t preferred. Group work is difficult when struggling with a problem, determining the next step or negotiating differing opinions. Clearly, the task of play is less challenging than a math problem, but these kiddos have the skills to negotiate moments of discord and disagreement.

Is it the task, the novelty, the self-selected grouping, or the freedom to choose that creates this competence and general satisfaction? Is it a combination of these elements? I couldn’t help but wonder and think, what if I’d done this sort of play as a precursor to group work? What if I did this form of play on a continual basis? Would our community be stronger and more productive in the end? How could we promote the transfer of skills all children own when at play, to the more difficult group work in the classroom?

As I hand over my kiddos to the next teacher, their responses and reactions to our year linger in my heart.

Today I celebrate the end of the year deep breath and the exhale of summer. An opportunity to wonder and grow.