Sometimes the best learning environment
for students isn’t a bunch of devices powered by Wi-Fi,
sometimes it’s a huge pile of cardboard
powered by pure imagination.
It’s January, and it’s finally time for the 3rd graders to have time in the Wonder Studio during recess. They are beyond excited. I look out onto a sea of eager faces, and they are literally bouncing with energy. I gather them on the porch before we venture inside, “Listen please. I’m giving you two sets of directions: Number one – go into my office, take off your coats, and put them on the chairs on the left side of the room. Number two – Then go into the Wonder Studio and sit on the steps. When you are all seated, I will give you a guided tour of what we have in the Wonder Studio today.”
To my surprise, they quieted down immediately, listened to my directions, and followed them to a T. Note to self: when something is dearly important to children, they will tune in and engage in the process with their whole hearts and curious minds. The 3rd graders have been patiently waiting for this day. The 5th graders participated in October and November, the 4th graders participated in November and December, and now it is their turn. The quota for each session was 9 students. Every single 3rd graders signed up to participate! In order to give everyone a chance, so I increased the quota to 12 students per session. The studio is a very small space. I crossed my fingers and hoped that this group could navigate the room and materials without too much chaos. To my delight, they got right to work, setting up their spaces and helping each other. Long before this day, they had been thinking hard about what they wanted to create. Soon, the studio was abuzz with activity.
Carlie wanted a small box, which I found for her. “I’m making a bed,” she declared.
Francee wanted a bigger box and some cardboard. “What are you making?” I asked.
“A hotel for my scrunchies,” she said, holding up three colorful fabric scrunchies.
I laughed. I had never thought of making a hotel for scrunchies. I marveled at her creativity.
Francee’s enthusiasm was contagious, and she soon had two classmates helping her construct the hotel. It had three floors created with plastic strawberry baskets and needlepoint canvas.
Some people would observe this scene and define it as childish. I suppose it is, but childish not in a dismissive and frivolous way. When I think of the word childish, I think of creativity, imagination, a great sense of play, adventure, and wonder. The studio session captured these childish times: a child painting paper plates with bright colors, another child duct-taping blocks together to make her own version of a Rubik’s cube, and yet another child stringing beads and wooden snowflakes together to make a winter garland.
Carlie has returned to request a stapler. “What do you need it for?” I ask. I’ve learned to ask this question because often students do not request the tool that they actually need. In this case, Carlie wanted the stapler to “sew” pillows for her bed. I looked at the tiny fabric squares in her hand. She had put a cotton ball in each square and showed me where she wanted to staple. “May I show you something?’ I asked her gently. She nodded her head. “Staples are not the best tool for making pillows. Let’s try sewing instead. Would you like me to teach you how to do it?” Carlie nodded again. We worked together to sew two small pillows perfectly for her cardboard bed. “Do I have time to make a quilt?” Carlie asked. “Next session,” I promise.
I looked at the clock. “We have five minutes to clean up,” I announce to the girls. They moan in unison. “I know. I know. You have done excellent work. There will be more time next week.” They slowly complied, as I stood directing where to put palettes and paint brushes. Someone had spilled some water and others come to her aid. We found space for paintings to dry and beads to stay organized. Francee’s hotel was put on a high shelf, as was Carlie’s bed.
This childish time is essential, so nourishing. I know it, and the girls know it. We have formed a strong bond. There is such satisfaction, such a sense of purpose when making something with your own two hands out of your own wild imagination. We all want to stay here in the Wonder Studio just a little longer.