I Trust You

This evening I finally visited Bambini Creativi, the Reggio school in south Kansas City that I have heard so much about for the past year. I joined my Learning Environments classmates there as part of our discussion on how the learning environment influences learning. We started the evening sitting in child-sized chairs at child-sized tables in the dining room to listen to Breanne (the owner/founder) share a bit of her story and philosophy. Then we followed her and Annie (a former co-worker of mine who now teaches at Bambini) through the school as they described what they do and why they do it. I can’t even put into words what this school is like because it is so different than anything I have experienced.

At the end of the tour, we were invited to choose an area in the school that we liked and reflect on a list of questions about that space, about what it said to the children and their parents and how that space might influence our teacher. I sat myself down next to the projector, where the children can draw their own transparencies and then use them to tell stories. I looked around at the two block structures – spaceships, we were told – which have grown and evolved in that corner since before Christmas. I looked at the books, the blocks, the umbrella, the solar system, the wire sculpture, the disco ball, at the carefully documented evidence of what the children were doing and saying and learning. And I listened.

What does this space say to children?

That what they have to say, their ideas, their stories, are important. Their work is important enough, serious enough, to let it gradually creep its way across this classroom space, day after day, as they add to it and refine it. That their process matters, the journey of doing, but that their product is significant and beautiful, too.

That their teachers trust them. They give them responsibility, handing their learning back to them, because these teachers believe that these children are capable. They show that they trust the children, so that the children can learn to trust themselves.

It reminded me of a blog that touched me last year from Teacher Tom. This post was named “Be Not Afraid” and in it he described his most memorable Easters as a child, the ones he spent in Greece full of exploding eggs, boiling vinegar, and late-night bonfires. Then he shared about a two year old her dipped her hand in glue and then proceeded to walk all around the room, very careful to keep from touching anything with the glue as he shooed away the other teachers who wanted to clean off the glue for her. Teacher Tom ends the post by writing:

“I would trust Maya to carry an Easter candle; look how responsible she is. I would trust Violet to boil-dye a batch of blood red eggs. Children are as competent as we allow them to be. They step up to the responsibilities in their lives, but only when we leave them enough freedom to assume them on their own. I hear a lot of people this time of year saying things about the “real meaning of Easter.” The part of that real message that I always took home with me as I carried my candle through those dark streets was the part that said: “Be not afraid.”

It’s a good message because it’s only when we can move beyond fear that we can trust. And trust is what our children need from us.” (Teacher Tom, April 04, 2012).

How can my classroom, with my precious group of one year olds, reflect this message of “I trust you”?

Breaking into Spring

As of 5:30 p.m. on Friday night, I have been on spring break, not just from school but also from work (both spring breaks happened to fall on the same week).

Saturday morning I started my break with a big breakfast, hosted by Justin Andrews. We ate delicious food, talked, and laughed. Then we meandered over to Anna’s going-away garage sale where I picked up a new bag (after straining under the weight of school books and notebooks for seven months, my old one finally snapped this week), a garlic press (hallelujah!), and an armful of beautiful fabrics.

From there Derek and I rode down to the library where I perused the shelves for some fiction to read (I find it so hard to find good fiction sometimes). Then we packed a picnic dinner and spent the evening at Loose Park, sitting under a budding apple tree. We ended the night with a movie (the second Jurassic park, if you must know; I’d never seen it and spent a decent percentage of it calling advice to the characters and gripping Derek’s arm).

On my list for the rest of this week off:

  • Go to the Kansas City Community Garden’s office and sign up for a membership.
  • Start our garden. I confirmed with the landlord this week that it’s still okay for us to plant one and posted a flyer by the mailboxes today inviting the neighbors to join me. My goal is to get the plot tilled and a temporary fence (to keep out animals — especially the neighbor’s dog) this week.
  • Start (and perhaps even finish) my observations for my child development case study (yes, I do plan on doing homework this week unfortunately).
  • Begin researching Reggio Emilio for my curriculum comparison project (and decide on my second curriculum focus).
  • Begin research for my program spotlight project.
  • Finish research for my risk factor project and write the paper.
  • Write eight activity plans for my curriculum class.
  • Write four activity plans for my internship class.
  • Set up my observations at Plaza de Ninos.
  • Finish reading, reviews, and application activities for my health, safety, and nutrition class.
  • Read fiction
  • Spend time outside (it’s supposed to be sunny and in the 70s for the first few days this week)
  • Catch up on letter writing (I have at least five that I’ve been meaning to write)
  • Make something creative (perhaps that toilet paper role wall hanging? Or some flowery branches for our dining room?)
  • Write a blog or two (maybe. No promises…)
  • Do laundry (and all that everyday stuff that still needs to happen).

Actually, now that I look at that list, I have quite a bit of homework to do. Ugh. But even so, I plan to spend time relaxing and enjoying break, too.

Unfortunately, my body seems to have it’s own plan of being sick this week….

So, It’s Been A While….

I know I’ve been pretty silent her in the blog world for quite a while (for almost two months, actually, if anyone has been keeping track….oops). My life, on the other hand, has been anything but silent. I don’t have adequate words yet for some of what has happened in those two months (and some can’t be shared in a public forum like this anyhow), but I can give you a brief list of some of the major life events since I last wrote:

  • We did a lot of wondering and praying about how we were going to pay rent and bills at the end of July.
  • I found a job (quite shortly after I wrote that last post about being discouraged by the fruitless job search, actually). Now I work as a server/cashier/dishwasher at a breakfast café in Westport. I really love it (except for working every weekend…). And it has been a reminder of God’s attentiveness to my heart and desires. During my final week of work with the after school program, I was praying and asking God to provide work for me and Derek. I felt God ask, “Well, what kind of work would you like?” The first thing that came to mind was a little breakfast and lunch café, full of bright colors, where I could serve cheerfully. That picture opened the door to a lot of lies in my heart about how I would never be good at the things that I wanted to do (some yucky heart residue from the after school job). About a month later, when I received the call for an interview at this breakfast place, God reminded me of that conversation with Him. Sure enough, the job opened up.
  • We contemplated a major, life-changing decision, ultimately deciding to say yes to what we felt was an invitation from God. That following month was an emotional roller coaster, careening though drama, phone calls, urgent meetings, a good deal of heartache, and then eventually ending with all our options exhausted and all the doors closed. God spoke to us deeply in that process, though, and assured us that He always brings forth life. Though we don’t know or understand what that might look like in this and we still carry a fair amount of grief over how things turned out, we’re still believing His word in that. (One of these days I may write a password-protected post sharing some more details of what happened and the ways God spoke in it).
  • Derek found a job (just in time to confirm the aforementioned life-changing decision). Now he works three days a week doing apartment maintenance and grounds keeping at an apartment complex near the Plaza (which fits perfectly with his school schedule).
  • Derek and I celebrated our second year of marriage by going out to our friend Autumn’s farm out in the middle of nowhere in Kansas. It was so peaceful and perfect. (I came home to discover that my engagement ring was stolen from the house while we were gone, though we got it back later that night, but that’s a whole different story….)
  • Derek returned to school for his second semester in CISCO networking. Don’t ask me what that is exactly. I just know it has to do with computers (and nothing to do with facebook) and that now he knows enough about routers to set up a home wireless network for us (pretty handy!).
  • I started school full-time. After almost five years out of school (which I still don’t regret, by the way), I’m a student again, this time working towards my associates in child growth and development. The classes are proving to be pretty intensive so far (more so than I expected for me first semester). I’m learning a lot already, though, and growing more and more excited about learning to teach young children well.
  • We moved out of the Tracy House and into our own apartment. We had been looking towards this move since the beginning of the summer (we were finding it increasingly difficult to live in community as a married couple, especially in a community with such a diversity of ages, life stages, and values). We felt like God was inviting us into a season of more intentionally establishing the foundations of our family. Somewhat unexpectedly, Lindsay decided that the season of the Tracy House was coming to a close and we all moved out at the end of August. So now, for the first time since we moved to Kansas City, Derek and I have our own space, a huge (and cheap!) third floor apartment, complete with a sunroom and its share of old building quirks. The building is named Isabel, which means, “God’s promise” or “Our God is a vow.” It feels like a significant name for our new home. We are mostly unpacked now (except for the second bedroom, which has become a temporary storage space for everything that doesn’t have a more permanent spot yet). Now I often find myself distracted, dreaming about ways to make the space lovely and home.

So there you have it: the reasons behind my silence over the past couple month. And now, I have some homework to do (or procrastinate on…) and some beautiful weather to enjoy….

Feeding the Hungry

Yesterday work started with a third grader pulling the fire alarm. The whole school evacuated to the back of the playground, amidst much grumbling from the teachers (this particular third grader has created a bit of a reputation for causing trouble). When his mom came to pick him up, she told us that she’s used to it and wasn’t even angry.

On the bus ride home, I talked with one of the other teachers about it and about how so many of the kids there are hungry for attention. Some are ravenous for it, willing to do anything to earn a moment of interaction. As teachers, we try to respond to their hunger – a little extra homework help, a moment together reading a book, a word of praise, an invitation to be our helper for a project – but with a whole class of kids clamoring for attention, we can only do so much for each one or the most part their hunger continues to rumble and erupt into broken toys, scattered crayons, and punched classmates.

When I came home, Angel and Bubba were there to greet me. I could hear the patter of their feet as soon as I walked in the door and by the time I reached the top of the stairs, Angel was peering over the top of the gate, calling out “Hello!” And there was that hunger again, staring at me with eager eyes and a bright smile. Not for dinner (they had just finished that), but for attention. Love.

Often I find that I’m still painfully dismissive of that hunger, reluctant to give up my own freedom and pursuits to pour out the time and attention they need. I’m not their mom, I reason. I have other things to do, work to finish, projects planned, books to read. Yet here I am, grumbling about parents who don’t pay attention to their kids, don’t try to teach them or form their character, and lamenting the shortage of people to give these kids the one on one attention they need, while at the same time retreating into my selfishness and dismissing the opportunity to pour into these kids who share our house. Isn’t that part of why we invited Shelby and her kids into our home, not just to give them a place to live but to bring them into family, to begin to fill the places of neglect and lack? Oh yes, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

So after dinner, I stayed downstairs. I read books to the kids. We colored together. We made a tent out of a blanket and then played peek-a-book. We ate freshly baked cookies (courtesy of Lindsay) in the kitchen and then cleaned up the toys together before bed.

It’s just a start. I can hear them running around downstairs now as I write, reminding me that to love them well requires ongoing, persistent, daily sacrifice. But this afternoon, as I prepare for work and think again of my kids there, I’m also reminded of the price we pay if we deny that sacrifice of love and the incredible worth of giving time to these little ones.

Back to Work

On Monday, after a summer of immense shifting and re-organizing (they closed twenty-six schools over the summer), the Kansas City school district kicked off the new school year. And with that, I started my job with the after-school program again.

Work actually began for me about a week end a half before that, with meetings, training, enrolling students, setting up classrooms, and planning lessons. At the beginning of the week, I seriously wondered if we were going to make it, if we were going to be able to pull the program together before school started. Most of our staff weren’t even hired until the end of the week and so didn’t have time for training or lesson planning, and even on Monday none of us had been assigned to a specific age group yet. It was hectic, to say the least.

When I started, I had mixed feelings about working this job again. On one hand, I was excited to be back at the school, back working with the kids, but on the other hand, last spring was littered with frustrations with my boss because of her lack of organization, lack of honesty, and lack of respect for the staff, among other things. I wasn’t exactly thrilled about working under her again.

Sure enough, my frustration kicked in right away when my boss arrived forty-five minutes late for our meetings the first two days. I could feel my negativity building already.

But then God began transforming my heart. At the beginning of the week, I prayed that God would show me how to glorify Him in this job. He reminded me to reflect His heart and character, to walk in honesty, faithfulness, humility, and honor, striving for excellence and integrity in everything I do.

“And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).

Suddenly I found my heart blossoming with a desire to serve my boss. It wasn’t a political attitude of trying to say the right things to the right people to gain favor, but a genuine desire to take my gifts, strengths, and time, and use them to serve her, my co-worker, and the kids I’ll be working with this year. Whoa, that was a change. It felt like a huge shift in my attitude towards my job, a change of perspective that could only come from God. And as I began offering my strengths, my organization, my attention to detail, my faithfulness, I slipped right into a role that felt incredibly natural and was surprised by a sudden sense of peace about the job.

Of course, that was followed by a somewhat hectic week of welcoming new kids, chasing a few down hallways (most of whom were old enough to know better), setting limits, learning names, confiscating plastic teeth, getting to know new staff (we lost a couple during the course of the week – and then gained a couple more), and learning by trial and error what works and what doesn’t. But it feels good to be back and the kids are already working their way into my heart.

AND today starts a three-day weekend, complete with glorious, seventy-five-degree-and-sunny weather!