October 27, 2022
When he came to the community at three years old, he established himself right away as an ‘individual’ and ‘decider’. The guide thought he was extraordinarily self-aware and self-defined, with a prodigious vocabulary and an adult-like presence. He had a head of blondish curls and a sprinkle of freckles across the bridge of his nose. His intense brown eyes peered out from his glasses with dark rims – somewhat the little professor in appearance. She liked him right away. She had long since found this “liking” to be the key to working with each and every child, regardless of the challenge she might find herself facing.
From that first day, he decided he would pull up a chair near the room entry and wait for his mom. He would just sit and look, thank you until she arrived for him. He did this for a good six weeks, only occasionally selecting a work. The guide continued presenting lessons to him, after which he would return to his chair and wait. At their first conference, the mother said, “Donny tells us he sits in a chair and waits for me to return.” This was actually more of a question of the incredulous type than a statement. The guide assured her this was true and explained that she had every confidence in his eventual acclimation to the community and was not terribly concerned. They reviewed together what lessons she had given him and what he currently worked on when he was ready to choose.
It was not long after this first conference that he decided to leave the chair and go to work. He was a quick learner and extremely bright and she discovered that he required lessons at a quick pace in order to keep in step with his inquisitive mind and electric energy. Lags of any length between new and interesting vistas to conquer left him restless, impulsive, and agitated. She recognized that this child was going to be one of her great teachers.
Donny had a current of energy that ran through him like quicksilver and in most other school settings, he would have probably been medicated or seen in some way as ‘special’. But she could see that fascinating work kept him enticed, focused, and calm.
Making friends was not easy for Donny. His parents lived separately and he lived at either home within a schedule. Both were entirely dedicated to him, to his optimum development, and being intellectually stimulating people of many and varied interests, they reared him in this way. The Children’s House was his first experience of community with other children.
Donny thought differently than most of the other 3 to 6-year-olds. He questioned everything and especially challenged procedural guidelines. When all of the children placed their empty lunchboxes along the ellipse in ‘next available space’ order, as was the classroom custom, Donny challenged them by placing his at the opposite end. The other children were shocked and not a little disturbed at this perceived impertinence and an energetic dialogue pursued. “Why can’t I put my lunchbox at the other end? It is an end too,” he theorized. “But it isn’t in the next available order!” they replied. Their sense of order, so characteristic of children ages three to six, had been challenged. Eventually – she was never quite sure why; maybe his need for dissent had been met – Donny relocated his lunchbox to the next available spot and lunch convened. After lunch, he could be heard challenging the rules of the game being played outside.
By now, the guide was familiar with Donny’s resistance to change and need to pull back and study the situation before possible commitment, so it did not surprise her when it came time for him to begin Extended Day that he refused to return to the room after the morning children left. No matter that he would be in the same room with the same guide and many of the same children – to him it meant change, a change he had not agreed to. He spent a week choosing to stay on the screened-in porch after the noon transition, looking in at the others working. Any time she made eye contact with him and smiled, he shook his head and looked away. But when he had decided he was ready, he came in and went to work.
The beginning of his third year in the community revealed a boy now entering his third phase of life in the community, that of an older child and mentor. He continued his stellar development in intellectual work, reading at a very high level, and well into the memorization work in math operations. But he still enjoyed challenging the limits, often in impulsive acts that seemed to spring from him with a life of their own. Now that he was approaching elementary age with its characteristic Sensitive Periods for logic, reason, and morality, she had private conversations with him about “impulses” and awareness of the effect of one’s actions on others. She wanted to help him understand that impulses can be both a good and helpful act, such as holding a door open for someone or picking up trash from the floor that someone dropped, or an act that could result in discomfort or even harm for someone. They practiced from time to time noticing impulsive acts observed in the community that was helpful to others.
One day there showed up at the classroom door not one set of parents, but two sets of parents to observe. The guide quickly made accommodations for all four and then continued her work at hand. As she settled into work with a small group of children, she noticed that Donny was working diligently binding a math booklet, meticulously collecting the little circles of paper made by the hole-puncher into the small round container that accompanied this exercise. “Good”, she thought and returned to her work.
“Stop, Donny!” the girl shouted and the guide turned in time to observe him emptying the full container of paper dots onto the head of a nearby girl. A swirl of snow drifted onto her head, shoulders, the table, and the floor. And immediately, in his eyes, the guide saw Donny’s recognition of his impulsive act. She intuitively knew that he realized his wrong choice and stood in self-reproach. She knew how quickly any missteps on her part could cause this fragile moment to shatter into shards of defensive opposition. She thought to herself, “You almost made it through this impulse, Donny. Soon you will be able to make a better choice.” Slowly and deliberately she rose to her feet and walked the distance to where the two children were. She was very conscious of the parent observers, the other children, and of her own desire to choose her actions and words carefully to best work through this challenge for Donny, Jane, and the other children.
“Oh, Jane!” She exclaimed. “I am so sorry to have to ask this of you but would you kindly sit in your chair while Donny removes each of the paper dots from your hair, the table, and the floor? I will fetch you some books to read while you wait.” She maintained a cheerful, matter-of-fact calmness with no trace of punitive judgment. This was simply her respect for Donny’s dignity and her support for his making things right again.
Returning with books in tow, she settled Jane and then, turning to Donny, asked him to bring the container of dots to her table when he had finished collecting them back into the container. She returned with calm focus to her group and resumed the work. For the remainder of the work period, Donny removed paper dots from Jane’s hair, picked up those that had fluttered elsewhere, and life resumed in the community. Children spontaneously brought different books to Jane to read. The following day she received notes from the parents expressing gratitude for having the opportunity to observe the interconnections of actions and consequences in the natural life of the community.
Donny transitioned at the end of his third year into early elementary class and he eventually left the school because of a family move.
One day some years later, while leaving a program at the school’s adolescent campus, she heard her name called. Looking in the direction of the call, she saw a woman and an adolescent boy. As they neared one another in greeting, she realized it was Donny and his mother. Before she stood a tall, charmingly poised boy still wearing dark-rim glasses and smiling warmly. They chatted a while, catching up on each other, and then parted ways. She marveled at the transformation in the boy and hugged this to herself for a touchstone for all those little ones who would come her way in one state and emerge much later a new child. She made a mental note in reflection on the importance of Donny in her life – as one who taught her much about children and their dance of development. She wondered if he remembered the white dot incident.