(This is my last journal for the class)
This week, I was in the language area, but with low interest in writing stories and having Christian nearby as well, that ended up being a small part of my actual focus as I drifted around. Instead, I want to focus on a longer interaction I had with A..
I was initially in the music room looking at the chicks with C. when she said that she was going to go out to the monkey bars. At that point, A. asked me, “Do you know what the monkey bars are?” I was curious as to why he would ask me such as a question, since I would assume that he would think I must know, so instead of just saying know, I instead just asked him if he could tell me what they are. He explains in reasonable terms about what they are and how children interact with them, and we briefly discuss his own ability with the monkey bars. Although this initially left me confused, my interpretation now is that this was how A. was initiating conversation. Aware that C. would no longer be the focus of my attention, he picked up on the most immediate discussion point and threw it out there for me to engage with him on. This particular question was somewhat awkward as a starting point, but A. did demonstrate an ability to discuss in a context-sensitive manner. Forman points out that “…we need to make a shift in what we believe a question to be…,” and he continues to discuss one possibility that a question is “an implied failure to communicate” (79). Between adults, A.’s question would simply whether one knew what monkey bars are, but to A., this question had a much different purpose, being primarily communicative instead of focused on the actual knowledge. Moreover, it worked as we began to talk as we walked out of the music room.
A. was holding a photo from a vacation in his hand, and we walked over to the mailbox on the shelves, and he put it in. He tried to close it, but the flap flopped back open, and he soon realized that he couldn’t stand there forever to hold the mailbox closed. He first asked me how it closes, so I explained that most mailboxes have clasps on them. From there, he pointed out the one clasp on the flap, and I agree. He then commented that the clasp has nothing to attach to, so he put together all of the details to understand exactly why the mailbox wasn’t staying closed.
Next, he asked me why the mailbox had nails sticking out of the bottom of it. I honestly said that I didn’t know in the moment. He responded relatively quickly and told me that they’re to attach the mailbox to the wooden support below it. I was again very impressed by his ability to demonstrate this knowledge, though I’m still not entirely sure where his comment came from. First, it could’ve been prior knowledge. A pattern I noticed in his speaking manner was that he often asked “why” or “what” questions for things he asked seemed to know. Like how he began our conversation about monkey bars, perhaps those are the sentence forms that he feels comfortable speaking with. Second, he could’ve reasoned through it in the moment, which I think would be a great inductive leap to make in understanding the physical relationship between the parts and the purpose of the nails. In either case, he was able to carry on at a very high level of functioning.
From there, I saw an opportunity to scaffold his engineering talent and asked him if we could use anything to close it. He immediately said tape but then retracted it. When I asked him why, he pointed out that if it’s taped, we can’t get anything into the mailbox. When he floundered on other solutions, I suggested that maybe we can use string, so we went over to the craft area to get some string. Meanwhile, he still pulled two pieces of tape, and we returned to the mailbox to close it.
He told me to pull the string through, and I talked through with him exactly what he wanted, which turned out to be the string through a small hole on the side. Because of how the yarn is braided, I ended up pushing the first bit through, then allowing him to complete the rest of it. After that, he taped the flap anyways so that the flap remained partially open. Although I had had a particular solution in mind, he clearly still had his own vision in mind that he executed.
Later on, he said to me, “The string is just hanging there. Do we even need it?” On that point, I agreed with him, and he removed the piece of string. When I asked him how someone could put something into the mailbox if it’s taped, he simply said that one can just take the tape off.
Overall, I’m impressed by his ability to work through a particular goal. Although his method didn’t quite match up with what he had said, he continued to work towards it and think critically about the purpose of various objects present. From my end, I think I ended up being the most helpful to him in my confusion about his mental state and purpose and in my ignorance about how to proceed, so I feel like I did the right things if perhaps for the wrong reasons. My confusion drove me to ask him questions that demonstrated his thought process, which hopefully helped to solidify those. My ignorance gave him the opportunity to think and work through various problems instead of me just telling him what he needed to know or what he needed to do.
I don’t know if I can aptly distill my experience at Bing into words other than to say that it has been very good. As I mentioned early on, my interest in children is almost exclusively on cognitive development, but interacting with them has reminded me that there are other important parts of development as well, such as social skills and emotional maturity. Although my mindset is still to compartmentalize these ideas, there really is a lot of connection between these different topics that gives a better total understanding of where a child is overall and how he or she can best be supported.
I’m not sure if I had expectations of the capabilities of 3, 4, and 5 year olds, but whatever they were, they were shattered. Perhaps the only thing that I feel I had right coming in is that children are strangely competent and incompetent in various areas, sometimes at the same time on what seem like very similar things. The best example in my mind is their language development, which is in many ways very sophisticated, but is also often not at all translated in writing and reading. They can recognize the first letter of another child’s name, but not be able to spell or even write the letters for their own name.
I feel like I’ve grown quite a bit from this experience, if only to have bought in to Bing’s philosophy about a play-based education. Even beyond the ability to understand children better, both in academic and real-life settings, and use that in the future, the basic skills to engage with and help the children feel like they’re more generally useful in interacting with all people, adults or children. Although I don’t think I’ll ever go through conflict resolution in quite the same way with my roommate, I think the mindset and determination to really understand the motivation of others and express those very explicitly makes sense. These journals have caused me to think harder about why certain interactions happened as they did and try to do better in the future. After spending the past few years at college focusing so specifically on my own cognitive development in classes, this class was a good reminder that just like the children, I have other things I need to learn along the way, too.