In class yesterday, Anghelika introduced rhythm sticks to a group of five-year-olds. Rhythm sticks are foot-long wooden sticks for knocking together–these simple toys/tools are fun and noisy, so are an easy sell to kids. But they also offer a number of covert benefits for a growing mind. With some care on the part of the teacher, kids can smack away while “accidentally” learning rhythm and math, following a leader, and working together.
In the midst of the knocking and counting, Anghelika noticed a single student holding her sticks in the middle, while the majority held them by the ends. We thought about this and it occurred to us that for most of the kids, there was an understanding that the stick could be a tool or instrument. Tools and instruments are for doing something with, for making music: you hold tools by their ends. For this student, however, the stick was for holding, not so much using. The thing had not yet become for her a utilitarian object: she had a stick to hold, and holding means grabbing it in the middle. From her perspective, we imagine, holding on the end is a nuisance: it requires more strength, balance, and what’s the point anyways? She had something in her hand; it felt good!
Sure, this is on the one hand a simple opportunity to introduce the idea of utility to students along with different ways of interaction. She was open to instruction that day, and her particular relationship to the object was no cause for concern. She would have gotten it, no problem.
On the contrary, there is enough emphasis on utility in our education system … what’s wrong with relating to an object for the way it feels in your hand? We take notice of this outlier for the uniqueness of her interaction. Sure, there’s an opportunity to teach her about the tool and it’s usefulness, but there is also an opportunity for us to learn something about her perspective and what is important to her in the moment. Both are true, and rich opportunities for growth, in her, and in our community perspective.
The wrong approach to the situation would be to correct her grip and tell her the “right” way to hold a stick, to point out “how the other children are doing it”, and call attention to some failure on her part to align with the crowd. The right way would be to acknowledge and respect her way for what it is, letting her speak to her own reasons why. Then, together, teacher and student can work out the best way to hold a stick for different uses.