“What Did You Do Wrong?”


It is always informative to have new folks observing my classroom. It’s like when you see your dining room table in the back of a picture: “When did all that stuff get there?” or that the view out of that window is stunning.

I recently had someone walk over to a child and ask him what he was doing. “Folding napkins”, he said.  “Oh!  What did you do wrong to have to do that?”

The child could make nothing of that comment, so didn’t try, and went back to folding, reflecting on the odd things that grownups say.  He was, in addition to folding, giving a lovely folding lesson to his 2 year old helper, who was riveted.

Of course, I know that work is dreadful, especially boring, repetitive work. Am I leaping up right now to put the clean sheets back on the guest bed?  No. They are lying in a sad heap on the bed, and will until an hour before the next guest arrives.  I couldn’t tell you the number of things in my house which are undone.  It would take months.

However, I also know that my attitude towards work of all kinds is learned.  I remember this when I see children invited to do something meaningful in the classroom, like folding the napkins (so that we can have snack) and teaching others to fold napkins (because it is cool to know stuff.)  No, they are not all singing “whistle while we work”, but they are not grumbling much, unless we teach them to.  They are often rather pleased and self-satisfied.  They often find the work relaxing or intriguing.

Recently a child was thrilled to be allowed to figure out how to shake the plastic bag so that it fit well in the trash can.  He has now taken it over as “his job”: “Allow me, please.”  Yes, maestro.


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