I have enough to do during the day that I could remain busy from start to finish with tasks like meal prep, dishes, cleaning up, vacuuming the mud off the floor so Desmond doesn’t eat it, setting up sensory experiences and cleaning them up, setting up art experiences and cleaning them up…the list goes on. But the most critical activity that I must engage in daily is the act of sitting still and observing. Observing is watching of a higher quality than the watching that one does when supervising. Observing requires a reflective and still presence, ready to extend, scaffold, and support growing minds and bodies at a moment’s notice. Observation enables a quality of interaction that fosters unparalleled growth – I can extend the learning in areas where the crew is already spending time. Without daily observation, I would miss out on the incredible thought processes going on all around me. Observation is something I must remind myself to do, otherwise I get pulled into the tasks that fill up my day. Consequently, I engage in space-making practices like preparing quick meals during the day, employing the crew to help with cleanup, and saving some of the non-essential tasks for the end of the day, thus freeing me up for observation. Observation gifted me this incredible exchange. I witnessed the miracle of cognitive brain wiring firsthand and as I watched the synapses match, I held my breath, afraid that if I said anything I would have disrupted the flow.
We have amassed quite a collection of boxes in our space recently, and one of the more recent additions was a tall, skinny one that housed the pre-assembled bookcase I ordered for our reading area. This gem was used in a myraid of dramatic play situations: as a sleeping bag for a morning of camping play, a house for a cat, and a baby’s crib, just to name a few. It instigated many a social dilemma as the crew negotiated who would get to use it first and whose turn it was to wiggle their body down inside the small space. After a day or two, the novelty wore off, and it sat propped in the corner near the other thirty or so boxes we have been playing with – just waiting for friends to have an idea.
Along came Cadence and Tekoa. They began moving the box around the room and propping it at an angle against vertical surfaces like the side of the slide or the walls. Finally they had a light bulb moment – they should lean it up against our short table and make it into a slide. The two girls propped it in place, and Cadence climbed onto the table, ready to step onto the precarious slide for a ride to the ground. I could see the experience unfold in my mind – she would put her weight on to the box and the box would either slip away from the table and fall onto the ground or it would buckle. As she stepped onto the box slide, it (not surprisingly) buckled and she jumped off. I could see the wheels turning in her head. How could she reinforce the box in order to give it the strength it needed to function as a slide?
Without a word of explanation, she began running around the room gathering materials to fill the box — peanut butter blocks, other smaller cardboard blocks, a whole tub of unifix cubes — anything she could find that might fill the empty space of the box and create a solid object on which she could slide. Tekoa had no idea what was happening; it was Cadence whose brain was directing this flurry of activity. She got the reinforced box into place, climbed onto the table, and tested. The box didn’t buckle, but it did slide away from the table as the weight on the top forced the bottom further out. She climbed off, and found a collection of cardboard brick blocks to use as a prop and lined them up between the wall and the base of her slide. With a wedge in place, she climbed the table again and, amazingly, it worked! It was not strong enough to survive multiple trips, but for a few brief trials, it held in place! Cadence beamed, and I silently beamed with her.
With the slide task checked off her list, the next logical step was to hoist this full box to the top of the slide and dump everything out onto the floor. She needed Tekoa for that task because the box was too heavy and unwieldy to manage solo. I restrained all of my “be careful!” impulses, and instead offered some guidance about determining the landing place of the objects and making sure the area was cleared before the items dropped. If carrying the heavy box to the top of the slide was a feat, the process of lifting the weight over the railing was doubly so! Take a look at the process…
“One, Two, Three!”
The pouring was as much closure for the giant cognitive leaps her brain had made as anything else. The weight of the box, the cacophony of sounds from all the materials hitting the ground, the exuberance of success — and I would have missed it all if not for a momentary observation.