Eyes bright, Declan went straight to the mound, tore off a small clump and rolled it into a ballish shape. He took his creation to a neighboring table, which was strewn with blocks. After carefully placing five or six of them on end like a miniature skyline, he gingerly set the pink tadpole on the tallest one. Then he went back to the other table, grabbed another clump, rolled it in his palm and set it on top of the next block. He did the same thing to another, then the next one, until his city was adequately crowned with squashy spheres of pink goop.
One of the teachers, who had been helping a student rinse purple paint off of her forearms and hands, did a slight double take when she saw what Declan was doing. She smiled.
“What are you making?” She asked him.
“Planets!” He told her. She smiled again and leaned in to examine his creation more carefully.
Where I half-expected admonishment that Play-Doh and blocks had to be kept separate, instead I found curiosity about, and respect for, Declan’s mind.
The operative word in the classroom seemed to be “yes.” And when it wasn’t, there were conversations about choices and consequences, not lectures. Kids simultaneously experimented in a sandbox, rode an indoor swing, sprinkled glitter onto heart-shaped construction paper. One girl toured the room in a princess costume. Moments later, she paraded through as a fuzzy brown bear. Declan made his way through the classroom and joined in as many things as he could find to do.
“That was a nice day for Declan,” he told me after we left.
A couple of people with older children told us that they had yet to match the consistently positive educational experience they found in this place. It’s not convenient to our home, but the simple lovingness toward children that I witnessed there told me that it will be worth the drive.
I was so relieved to find out today that there will be room for him in the fall.