I am writing this about an hour after 14 kids aged two months to eight years old have left my house. Most of those kids were in the three to four year-old range. It was my daughter’s birthday and we threw a big ol’ party to celebrate. I don’t do big shindigs often, but for some reason, I love doing them for my girls. I come up with a theme (this year’s party was a fancy society-lady luncheon complete with hats and pretty dresses), search for the perfect craft or game, agonize over the menu, and stay up until all hours of the night cleaning and putting the final touches on everything.
It’s crazy. A party at the park with some cupcakes would make Sami happy, but an over-sized tea party is magical. The streamers, the extra balloons, the tiny sandwiches, the centerpieces, these details make her eyes light up and cause her to whisper, “It’s beautiful, Mama.” Her gifts are few. The party is her gift.
And yes, this has something to do with teaching. While I don’t usually do worksheets or the questions at the end of the book, let’s face it, not everything I teach is super interesting. Take grammar. There are many ways to teach comma use, but none of them will cause a kid to leave class saying, “Commas are awesome!” Not seriously, at least. Good strategies are like a park play date; bad strategies are like chores. Nothing magical.
But everybody needs to see the magic in learning. I’m not talking about everyday magic; everyday magic is much more subtle and harder to spot. I’m talking about big magic. Once in a while students need to see big magic. To this end, I try to publish one book each year with my kids. And I mean a real, honest to goodness book with pages and pictures and a pretty cover and everything. The first page is always the list of authors, usually around a hundred of them (I teach secondary, not leaving kids out means a long list of kids). I know there are ways of publishing student writing digitally, but to see a kid open up a book he or she wrote or was part of writing is a wonderful sight. He will pause at the page that has his name. She will flip through the pages to find where her piece is. The class will shout back and forth, “Here’s what I wrote. Did you read it? Where’s yours?”
I can spend the rest of this piece talking about the justification of this activity, but the truth is I do it for that moment. I do it to see kids view themselves as important, even if is just for the class period. I do it so that they have something to take home and show their family, something that can be put away and brought out again as a reminder of that moment. It’s a gift I give to them.
It’s big magic, for them and for me.