The Seed was infested with ants when we returned from spring break. Not the kind of ants the PreK class is studying, human ants. During our week off, Bill ordered fourteen tons of sand to be delivered. The pile loomed by the swings and sand circle, inviting possibility. Mobilization of the work force was in order to move sand to the toddler area, both sand circles, and under the swings.
Our distribution process evolved, with teachers and older children handling the shoveling and filling of the wheel barrow. As more and more children wanted to get in on the action, we had to think creatively to make our process more inclusive. It was time for the Tonka truck brigade. While heavy wheel barrow loads of sand were in transit from pile to play spaces, yellow trucks were filled up with metal spoons. After receiving delivery instructions, each truck driver scurried to the appropriate destination. A colorful team of ants distributed our load of precious new cargo. It was a three-day process that refreshed the playground’s energy and activity.
It was interesting to observe different children’s attention spans for the work. Some stayed with it for their entire recess. One four-year-old eagerly delivered load after load to the toddler sand area. Other children filled a load or two, then migrated to the top of the pile to play and dig. Still additional children chose not to participate at all.
When talking to a parent about her son’s commitment to the sand moving process, our conversation shifted to the importance of children having “jobs.” She told me how her son and his dad worked together to wash their cars over the weekend. I thought about this for a few days. At the Seed each child has an assigned or selected job as part of daily school life. Even toddlers learn how to be helpful and responsible community members. Doing authentic, age-appropriate work has so many benefits for children. It builds self-esteem, encourages independence, and strengthens their self-worth. Additionally, when students see their teachers and parents working, they come to understand that each of us needs to contribute.
An important piece of children doing work is how they are encouraged and/or praised. At the Seed we practice acknowledging children for what we see them doing (“You did it. You moved that whole load of sand!”). We train our staff to avoid using the phrase, “Good job.” (https://www.awakeningseedschool.org/2016/09/good-job/) Whether it’s moving a pile of sand or being line leader, we want our students to know they play an important role in contributing to the greater good. As a staff we model this every day, counting on the next generation to be inspired by the jobs we do.