Active Learners Blog

It’s always been fascinating for me to observe how the children will want to re-experience the bits and pieces of the Nursery they have enjoyed and, in so doing, will pass these bits and pieces along to the next year’s group. It’s really an Antioch School culture they are creating and building on and passing along. As visiting Kindergartners or returning Nurseries, the children often carry their funny routines, jokes, ways of doing things, favorite songs and most loved stories forward into the following year’s Nursery group — and then those children on into the next, and so on, and so on, year after year.

One of their long-running favorites is what they have named the “Kindergarten joke” also known as “Ann, there aren’t any apples. . . .”

Two Kindergarten snack helpers walk over to the Nursery and say: “Ann, there aren’t any apples. . .” 

On cue, I say, “Oh, well, (with acceptance and an acknowledging smile) thank you so much for trying.”        

A pause until my back is turned . . . and then apples appear like magic on the snack table after which the Kindergartners make a joyous get-away to the Kindergarten room next door.

Another day and two different Kindergartners: “Ann, there were apples, (sadly smiling), but we got too hungry; we ate them.”        

“Oh my! Well I guess Nurseries will have (pause with sad inflection) nothing.”        

“No, here they are!” Apples appear, belly warmed, from inside the two Kindergartners’ shirts: Big grins as they wait for my response.        

The Nursery version of this is “Ann, there aren’t any cups; there aren’t any napkins. . . .” 

This is after they have gone down to MJ’s to get our snack supplies. In the Nursery version, the cues they give me are similar, but the smiles are bigger and giggles are closer to the surface while they play out the familiar joke to my straight man.     

Each day, each snack time this joke is played and replayed in enjoyable routine or endless variation by Nurseries and Kindergartners alike. It’s a dependably fun (and sometimes a very, very funny) part of our day. They are creating and sharing a brief script for themselves, and me, time after time. Some of these scripts can be exquisitely elaborate so that there is almost not time for them at such a busy part of our days. But we always find time enough, so we must love it.      

Watching these repeating refrains go forward year after year is one of the things I am most fascinated by. The “Kindergarten joke” literally is just that. About ten years ago two Kindergartners thought it would be funny to hide the snack time fruit they were bringing to the Nursery behind their backs and engage me in a silly exchange. The rest is a piece of our shared history replayed four times a day and passed on each year by the children.    

As a teacher, you can support it, but you can’t make something like this happen. Really, these things can be transitory which, I think, makes them even more enjoyable at the time. There is a certain amount of luck involved.  Are there children around who enjoy it enough to pass it on the following year? In any case, it has lasted some ten years, so it must have some essential elements for the children, a quality of lasting beyond time like a classic story or melody line.  I imagine the “Kindergarten joke” will continue as long as it speaks in some way to the child and adult worlds.     

Like the “Kindergarten joke,” sometimes these traditions are generated by the children, sometimes by teachers, and sometimes by both in collaboration. In any case, it’s interesting to see how the form is elaborated, and then refined as it evolves and goes forward year after year.     

This year in the Nursery, it seemed like a good idea to experiment with the idea of Younger Group partners. In the same way Kindergartners have their Older Group partners to sit with during performances, the Nurseries would have their Younger Group partners. After it was figured out, I wrote down the YG/Nursery partners on a list and posted it on an accessible Nursery wall. The children loved it from the very beginning. Nurseries were honored and in love.  They would make sightings:  “I see your partner!”     “Where?!”     “There! Over there, by the Tire Swing. . . .”     A group of Nurseries would then gather and watch proudly with a combination of giggles and a bit of longing in their eyes.     

One fall afternoon they watched from the Nursery windows while their partners took turns leaping into a huge pile of leaves just outside. They studied each YGer’s characteristic moves and after the YGers were called in, Nurseries went out and proceeded to put on the persona of their partners as they leaped and rolled, trading them around with one another. They called this “Playing partners.”     

Soon Nursery and YG partners started connecting with one another outside, sometimes in extended play. Or YG partners would come down to the Nursery during their free time to say hi and often to play piano and read stories to their Nursery friends. Of course, sometimes they would reminisce with me, or one another, about when they were in the Nursery.     

One day Tahlia, one of our YG visitors, remembered the concept of Name Days that she had invented when she was a Nurseryer four years before. Other YG partners joined in remembering and they were soon in an animated conversation, talking about the details of their own Name Days. On a whim I dug out the old chart they had made all those years ago and soon we were all gathered around looking. Some of the Nurseries were curious, asking questions. Tahlia explained to them that with Name Days each child has a special day in the Nursery to plan anyway she or he wanted. It was their very own day.

Name Days was such an elegant child generated concept and made such a wonderful focus for the whole group as we finished up the year so long ago. Four years ago, I had assumed that with all the enjoyment they had had, that the concept would carry on into the following year and that the next year’s group would want to do the same. But one can never quite predict how or why or when things will catch and, sadly enough, Name Days disappeared from the Nursery.     

However these Nurseries were intrigued. They had been trying to decide what big thing they wanted to do next and, as it turned out, Name Days would be it.     

And so it is. This year’s children have come up with everything from choosing snack helpers, books to read, songs to sing, to having hot chocolate for snack, eating cake, to a walk in the Glen. I think that, as well as each child making a special plan, what ever it might be, part of the joy of Name Days is being seen by everyone in a special way and feeling the generosity and celebration of their peers. They truly are honored by the other children. Although we have many names to go this spring, one evolving theme is that of the Name Day child requesting (and getting) the biggest piece of whatever special snack has been planned. The rightness of this is assumed by everyone. It is not even questioned. If asked, they would say, “Well, of course.”    

Sometimes the children’s ideas, which catch the imagination of the group and create a tradition, happen so spontaneously that no one really could say who or when or how — like the Kindergarten joke. Some ideas are the inspirations of a single child, carefully thought out and presented — like Tahlia’s Name Days. Then there are others that seem to happen when the group comes together to solve a problem.     

It was on a warm spring afternoon about six years ago that Nurseries were complaining to one another and noticing how difficult their jobs seemed to be. Clean-up is often tedious, hard work coming as it does at the end of the morning or afternoon when you are young, hungry, and tired. They sang their work songs, and I could offer words of encouragement, but they were feeling in their bones that something wasn’t working.

Galen, seconded by Ibi — now two Older Groupers — said, “Why don’t we clean up like the Kindergartners?”    

At that point, the inspiration of the idea took off and the group spontaneously circled up on the door and instructed me to sit in the rocking chair. They decided that their own Nursery way to do it was to have me say, “Bubble gum, bubble gum in a dish; how many pieces do you wish?  As I chanted, I was to point to each of them around the circle — the person who was in line for “wish” got to choose the Ḁrst job; and so on it would go around the circle until each job had been taken.      

I will admit that sitting there six years ago, I did have my doubts, which of course I kept very much to myself! What I said instead was, “It sounds like a good plan. Should we try it?”    

A chorus of “Yes!” all around. They were enthusiastic! They loved it! The following morning they taught their new method to the rest of the group. The entire group pulled it off together — and the next day and the next day and so on throughout the rest of the year. Children would often pitch in to choose another job or help a friend while I simply sat there in the rocking chair chanting out the rhyme. It became a quiet point of connection and a transition as each person anticipated their turn and then was chosen. To keep it fresh, they began to invent new rhymes for me to chant. They had made that inspired solution into a regular and joyful routine.     

Six years ago I wrote: In many ways, the essence of their solution really was to take on the choice and responsibility of clean-up for themselves by creating a personal form that they found both fun and engaging — and to remove me as overseer. It’s a pretty mature solution, and it may not be something another group can or will want to begin with next fall, but several children will be back in the Nursery and, you never know, it may take hold as a new Nursery School tradition. 

Six years later, I can report that it has!  So . . . many thanks to those long ago Kindergarten jokesters, and to students, past and present, for the inspirations that you have shared and the traditions that you have passed along. It’s lovely to think about the many past generations of children still present in the essential DNA of the Antioch School.    

We teachers do provide the necessary scaffolding; we keep it rolling along and patted into shape according to form. The children bring their interests, enthusiasms, and an often inspired understanding of their own needs. Along the way we receive from one another going forward, sometimes circle around to begin again, and then on we go into the future.


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