Today is officially the fifth (and final) day of the #5days5words blogging challenge, but as the educational troublemaker that I am, I didn’t follow the rules, but instead wrote this post the night before to publish in the morning. I know that I have a full day ahead at camp, and some additional things to do when the day is over, so I won’t have the extra time in the evening to blog. I’m making the time the day before. Rules are meant to be broken — or at least modified — right?! 🙂 I guess it comes as no big surprise then that today’s post is all about rules.
Schools run on rules. If we didn’t have them it would be anarchy. Chaos. Or at least that’s the perception. For people who know me, it’s no big surprise that I can be a bit of a rule breaker (or at least “bender”). It’s not that I don’t believe in the value of rules — or think that we shouldn’t have any — but kids are all different. Adults are different. When our rules are too restrictive, I wonder if we take into consideration these differences, and the possible impact that comes from not doing so.
This summer, I had to break a rule that surprised me. It started on the first day of camp, when one of our campers from last year was eating his lunch in the hallway outside the lunchroom. Why? I went up to ask him, and he said, “Because this was not our lunchroom last year. The music room was our lunchroom last year. I don’t like change. I want things to go back to the way that they were.” Interesting. I did appreciate how much he could articulate exactly what he was thinking and feeling, so I explained the reason for the change: there were no longer enough chairs and tables in the music room for lunch. He went to look. There were enough for him. He asked me if he could eat in the music room. What? The whole thinking behind our camp lunch is that the instructors and the children eat together. It’s about building community around food. Now he was losing out on this community, and he was eating in a room that was not designated for lunch. I tried hard to get him to consider eating in the lunchroom with his group, but he was not willing to try this. He said that he would eat in the hallway instead. I thought that the music room was better than that, so we created a space by the door of the music room, and he ate in there. Alone. So much for community … This did not feel right to me, and it went against the rule of where kids and staff were allowed to eat their lunch.
The next day, this child wanted to eat in the music room again. I just couldn’t have him eating alone, so I asked him, “Can I eat with you?” He replied, “Sure, Miss Dunsiger, but can you close the door for a minute?” I did. He said, “Listen. See how quiet it is. Now open it. Loud. I hate loud.” Eureka! Now I knew why he couldn’t eat in the other lunch room. I asked him if it was too loud in there, and he said, “Yes. It’s much quieter in here because the big door blocks some of the noise from the hallway and the rest of the school.” This was not a child that just wanted to push back on the rules. He knew what he needed, and he needed quiet. I came to realize that we have another lunchroom, which is much quieter. There are fewer kids eating in there, and with more space. I invited him to join me in this lunchroom recently. He actually agreed to sit down and eat. One of the other instructors said to him, “Do you want to come and sit next to me?,” and he replied, “No thank you! I’m more of a lone wolf,” and he pulled a seat up to counter to eat alone. Baby steps.
I couldn’t help but think about this child in a school setting. The rule is to eat in your classroom. Stay in your spot. Maybe even sit at a group of desks with other children. I understand why many of these rules exist for safety, supervision, the development of social skills, and accountability, but I also wonder in which cases we can bend the rules. I see how calm this child is after eating alone, engaging in some quiet talk with me or with a friend, and then rejoining the group for the afternoon. I wonder if we would see this same child if we had him eat in the noisier classroom with many more kids and adults. Do all children need the same rules, and how do we decide? As we get ready to head back to school, I wonder what rules we might bend or break this year, and the possible value for kids. Maybe at times we all need a few less rules.