I was reminded of our students this week while carving pumpkins with my family and friends. There were seven children of different ages all committed to finding, creating, and crafting a masterful jack-o’-lantern.
First, the kids picked their own pumpkin from the patch about a mile from our house– each one chose a different size, shape, and color. Some were short and squat with a nice stem for carrying. Some were tall, angular, and perfectly orange. Lars, my 2 year old, picked a pumpkin just his size and proudly carried it all the way out of the patch to the waiting wagon. One child picked an overly large pumpkin that still needed time to ripen with green stripes running up and down its sides. This child had a vision of what he wanted to carve already – talking about it all the way to the pumpkin weighing station.
Then came the planning and chatting time. What do we want to make with our pumpkin? Will it be an animal, have a traditional face, or be a creative design? Some of the kids had been thinking about their design since last Halloween; some of them had no idea and just wanted to get their hands on the carving implements and into the muck of seeds and pulp. One child could not be bribed to touch any of the pumpkin parts, but loved seeing the others at work. Another child helped my son decide on a design — a cat — and then helped him carve out his design. He needed a lot of help with carving, but he had plenty to say about where to cut, and how many whiskers it needed.
The variety of tools needed to sculpt these motley creations was interesting to see. Along with the various knives and spoons, I saw a giant ice cream scoop, a potato peeler, and a soup ladle! Apparently, different tools reap different benefits when removing the innards of a particularly stubborn pumpkin. The kids seemed to know which one worked for their own pumpkin design.
At the end of the night, we placed all the creations on the counter, turned out the lights, and lit all the gourds to full glory. The “oohs” and “aahs” were all unanimous. The display was beautiful and memorable! The fact that each pumpkin was a different size and design only added to the cornucopia and esthetic feeling. The personality of the carvers was apparent. The kids loved having the adults praise all the hard work. It was decided, at the end of the evening, that all the jack-o’-lanterns needed to stay together because seeing them in a group was a truly “spooky” and wonderful sight. Only then could we see how different they were and appreciate the exceptional features of each one at the same time.
Herein lies my analogy. It is not a long stretch. When I think of how unique and beautiful all the students are at The IDEAL School, I am astounded by the variety of learning styles, personalities, and interests in each classroom. Our adorable “pumpkins” are still works in progress, all on an educational journey. The teachers work diligently to provide the appropriate designs and tools for academic success, fostering independence on the way. There are students who have a strong vision of what they want to accomplish. We support this through individual work, studies of interest, and by providing guidance when necessary.
I see unique writing and artwork hanging outside of classrooms and hear distinctive voices singing in their own style. Sometimes students work independently; sometimes a partner will assist them in getting the job done. Our students are learning to “carve together”, partnering while buddy reading, working together to solve math problems, and holding hands as caring friends during field trips. Sometimes students work with different tools to carve out their work that is just right for them. I see some students reading text with many words while others are working on building a strong phonemic foundation.
This type of differentiation is exactly what we are accomplishing at IDEAL. Allowing students to be unique, to provide them with the tools they need, to help them shape a vision and achieve excellence are all parts of the work taking place in school every day. Individual style and creativity shines through in each and every child, and lights up our community each day. We love the variety of “pumpkins”, and seeing them all together illuminates a unique and matchless wonder.