Today I had eight kids in day care on my own. For the first time in I don’t know how long, none of the littlest ones were there. Instead, we had a three, two fours, a five, and four school age kids, one six, two eights, and an eleven. The older ones wanted to practice Act 2 of a play they began performing yesterday afternoon. They wanted the little ones out. Instead, I asked them to let them in. Soon the play practice was a performance. One eight wasn’t so sure the little ones could stay. She worried they would want to be in it and leave early. I said they might. I let them know that in shows like the Nutcracker and the Open Air Circus there are parts for young kids which don’t depend on them making ever performance. In the end, the eleven organized the young ones against the wall, where they sat mesmerized for a long, long time, not asking to be in the play or interrupted, or doing much of anything but staring at the big kids in their world.
The big kids and their play were a little random. They had costumes. The eleven changed hers several times in the bathroom next door. The six had no costume, needed prompting from one eight to remember the story and his lines, sat propped on the arm of his favorite chair between his bits. The eights debated whether one was a director or not. The one who had first said she was agreed she was not, confirmed she FELT like one. How nice.
After the play was over I asked if the performers would be open to a Question and Answer for the audience. They were thrilled. The audience of five was eager, too. The two fours raised their hands and wiggled. When called upon, they could say who their question was four, but didn’t have a question. I wondered if the performers could tell us about their process, who did they decide, for example, on their lines. What unfolded was a conversation I wish I had recorded. I took some photos, but my camera is so full I knew I couldn’t do a video.
The kids took turns starting from the beginning and going up to the end of Act 11, planned to do Act 111 in the afternoon, which they are doing as I type. I had no idea until I asked them what the play was about. The performance clearly had meaning for the kids. They spent much of yesterday morning and afternoon working on it. They guided one another, laughed, shared lines and characters and a plot they had clearly worked to devise. What I found out in the Q and A is that the play started on February vacation, when the two eights and the six were with us. When the eleven arrived this week, they added a part for her. First they told us about the characters, how one eight had found a costume she liked and that lead to her character, another chose to be a fairy, and found wings. The six became a warrior elf. The eleven became a dragon. Then they told about finding the setting, how the six had brought a book (which they had all gathered around not the couch upon arriving this morning and carried with them much of the day) and in it was a place they chose for they name of the island in the play. The island wasn’t an island in the book, according to the eleven, sister of the six, though the six disagreed. The name of the place was stuck in google eyes to a piece of cardboard propped on the chair, a sign the kids made yesterday afternoon. Then the kids relayed how they had come to a plot. One of the eights said the play needed something interesting to happen. So, the dragon came in handy this round. Another piece of danger had been in Act 1 and another would be in Act 111.
After we watched and heard about the play, we made a plan to go to Waldo Park after breakfast. At breakfast we talked briefly about my son and daughter and their friends who made a musical a few years ago, two years in the writing, one year in the song writing, practicing and performing. We talked about arts camps where one eight had spent three weeks this summer and one four had spent a week. How did they like it? They loved it! At Waldo Park the kids played altogether, ages three to eleven. They made a fairy village and collected pieces of plants in buckets, climbed and ran and rode the swings and talked. At breakfast and lunch they served themselves and ate and talked more than eight children usually do. Excitement was in the air. We took our quiet time, but then it was back to the play. This afternoon around 4:30 we’ll have the final act, a smaller audience, perhaps, as the three believes she has a part, and one four and the five are back there now as well in the midst of the rehearsal.
Upstairs my son is packing his things for college. He’ll leave about the time the play is happening. When I told the kids he was going back to college they wondered why. I let them know he studies math and computers. The six let us know that is what his dad does all day. We talked about the subjects that we love. The three older girls talked about how much they love or hate math. I let them know I liked lots of subjects when I was in school, that I didn’t like math much but I was good at it. Two girls in the group felt the same way, while the other kept saying she loved math and was good at it, which tired the other girls out. I wondered if anyone was not good at something and loved it. This made the girls stop and think.
It’s nap time and only one four is napping. The others are all in the back room practicing and/or making up the play. It’s a nice way to end the summer, this mixed-age group thing. So many of our little ones are away or on vacation we have space for lots of big ones and only a need for one teacher some days. It takes me back to the days I wanted to make a school, and to the year I worked at Sudbury Valley. As we sat around the table, threes to elevens, I thought how it makes sense for SVS to start at four. As the kids occupied themselves this morning and I did chores, I thought of how at SVS the kids are so independent the staff do most of the administrative stuff interspersed with interacting with the kids. I also thought of the years of teaching second grade when I tried to teach children about the parts of a story and how to write, and how so much of what I was trying to teach them was right here this morning, so visible as the kids recounted their process of constructing and performing the play, and I wondered how to think about those two pieces, and how they fit with what I saw at SVS of kids this age playing and creating special events at their school without much involvement from adults. It is powerful to organize one’s world, intellectually, socially, emotionally, psychologically, physically. I’m pleased to witness another day of big and little in my home, one week more to go before big kids head off to school and new kids enter WFDC.