Setting Compass Points for Children

Allison D. Webster
I wrote in my last blog post about peak moments and all they do for a child’s memories and well-being; last week we had a peak moment for both children and adults at DCD. Mr. Clifford, wearing a top hat and tails, led a parade of students and penguins through the Lowell Center, which was packed with students and families.

Nearly 50 penguins waddled in, each pushed by a proud pre-kindergarten or kindergarten student artist who had been hard at work since September on their creation. We all sang an original song by Ms. Glaser, 8th graders shared penguin facts, and children from the upper grades raised their hands with enthusiasm when asked if they could remember their own penguin experience. Each penguin maker learned about creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication through the process of making and presenting their penguin.
 
These skills – known in education as “the Four Cs” – are ones we value deeply at DCD. I recently read the book Whiplash by Joi Ito, and in it he makes the case for the importance of these skills, especially as we prepare children for a world that will inevitably be different from our current one. He suggests that we need to abandon the idea of providing children with a detailed map of how their lives will progress, and instead instill in them a compass that can guide them as they find their way into adulthood. He writes,

"...a map implies a detailed knowledge of the terrain, and the existence of an optimum route; the compass is a far more flexible tool and requires the user to employ creativity and autonomy in discovering his or her own path. The decision to forfeit the map in favor of the compass recognizes that in an increasingly unpredictable world moving ever more quickly, a detailed map may lead you deep into the woods at an unnecessarily high cost. A good compass, though, will always take you where you need to go."
 
As we develop children’s skills and capacities, we also set the compass points of DCD’s values. In one short penguin parade, children experienced many of our compass points as a school: all students have a voice and participate; hard work and persistence are expected; we value the continuity and meaning that comes from traditions; we celebrate together as a community. Throughout the process, children experienced the delight of learning, especially at times when creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication converged.
 
The learning that occurred for each child during the months of penguin creation and celebration was extraordinary, and the social context in which it occurred was a critical part of the process. I recently read a passage in Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing that captured what experiences like the penguin parade provide children and how it builds a well from which children can draw. In Ward’s extraordinary book, the grandmother and grandson have a special relationship. She tells the grandson, Jojo, that she hopes he saved up the emotional sustenance she has provided during their years together. She says, “I hope I fed you enough. While I’m here. So you can carry it with you. Like a camel…Maybe that ain’t a good way of putting it. Like a well, Jojo. Pull that water up when you need it."
 
I know that today’s pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students will one day parade out of DCD, carrying diplomas rather than pushing penguins. When that time comes, they will have a strong and trustworthy compass to steer them, and a deep well of emotional reserves which they can “pull up” when needed. Penguins live in groups known as rafts or colonies, and last week was a time when we were all reminded how fortunate we are to be a part of our “raft” at DCD.
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