Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Puddle Jumping

After a week of being quickly herded from the safety of one dry building to another due to the rain, the boys were ready to stretch their legs and use their outside voices on Saturday morning.  We trekked across the street to the school playground with our gear -- a football, a baseball, a mitt, a skateboard and scooter.  But the truth is, we didn't need to bring a thing.  Scattered across the blacktop were perfect puddles begging the boys to indulge.

All week they had been told, and rightly so, "Stay out of the puddles!"  Chad has to make three trips a day to the school for drop-offs and pick-ups and trying to do that in the persistent rain with an almost-three-year-old in tow is not a challenge that needs escalation.  I echoed his position when I first saw Lucas headed for the puddles.  As parents we are often told of the great dangers in mixed messages.  If Dad says no, Mom must say no, too, to avoid decreasing Daddy's authority.  If a TV show is inappropriate to watch on Monday, it is inappropriate on Tuesday; otherwise, the expectations for our children are unclear.  If we say do not lie, then we cannot lie in front of our children and still expect them to adhere to our rules.   But this time, I broke the rules.  And really, I don't feel too badly about it.

In my classroom, I notice that one of the struggles students often have is knowing when they can break the rules.  I don't mean the "No gum in class" kind of rules; I mean the "Sentences do not begin with because" kind of rules.  I find that my students have been told so many times by so many people what they need to write, read, solve and produce, that eventually they became almost incapable of functioning without a mandate to do so. Writing assignments are the worst for producing this sort of anxiety in them.  How long should it be?  Can we use the word I?  Where does the thesis need to go?  How many examples should I give?  They often believe life would be so much easier if I provided a neat checklist that they could mark off as they went:  Thesis? Check!  500 words? Check? Eleven sentences in each paragraph? Check!

But real writing, and real life, does not always work that way.  One of the signs of a mature writer is knowing when certain practices are appropriate and when they are not.  Profanity may be acceptable, and even demanded, when crafting a short story featuring seedy characters.  It, most likely, is not as acceptable when writing a proposal for your employer.  One of the qualities of a mature human being is the ability to consider the possible impact of a particular action and then to determine whether or not the action is appropriate, necessary or permissible.

I want my students to go into the world, not hemmed in by rules and regulations, but confident in their own sense of discernment and determined values.  I want them to write with the same confidence, knowledgeable enough about writing conventions, audience, purpose and voice to be able to choose when to follow the "rules" and when to create their own.

I want the same for my sons.  Puddle jumping is not an absolutely negative activity.  In fact, it is one of those childhood pleasures most adults wish they had partaken in more often.  No, on the way to pick up your brother is not a good time to soak your feet and splash everything within three feet of you, including your daddy.  But a sunny, after-the-storm Saturday filled with nothing but time to waste -- perfect!

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