Thursday mornings I volunteer at a local elementary school. I begin the morning by helping a few kids 1-on-1, then I teach an enrichment lesson to the entire class. In the past, the lessons I have created have been largely academic, focused on topics like creative writing, decision-making, innovative thinking…. And while the lessons have been fun, they have also been pretty challenging. This has been by design, per the teacher’s request, and largely these lessons have been successful.
This week, I took a different spin. The teacher has appreciated all of the cognitive opportunities I have created for the kids, but said she was noticing that many of her students needed help developing more fine-motor skills. Last week she asked me if perhaps I could develop a lesson for this week that had a strong color/cut/paste component to it. Um… sure!
For this week, I knew I wanted to develop a lesson with a Thanksgiving theme; and with the color/cut/paste request/requirement, I knew I wanted to create something more unique than the standard make-a-turkey-out-of-your-hand kind of deal.
After a few moments of reflection, I investigated the concept of a cornucopia; and totally hit the jackpot. I learned that the word “cornucopia” comes from Greek mythology (Zeus), so I was able to begin my Thanksgiving lesson today with some ancient history. I was then able to use questioning to get the kids to think about why a cornucopia might still be prevalent during the Thanksgiving holiday, and used that as an opportunity to discuss the reality of sea travel in the 1600s (i.e., how the trip on the Mayflower sucked), the complex dynamics of agriculture (i.e., how the British people were unprepared to farm in America), and the reality of the Native American/British Separatist relationship (i.e., how the former group saved the lives of the latter). So I was still able to “sneak in” some higher-level cognitive thinking. : )
But, this was primarily a color/cut/paste lesson, so we got to the heart of the activity: having each student create his/her own personal cornucopia. I gave each student a picture of a large horn basket, and a sheet of paper that had a variety of fruit-and-vegetable outlines on it. I asked each student to select at least 6 fruits/vegetables of the 12 on the page, to then color those images appropriately (i.e., no blue apples, please), to cut the colored images from the sheet, and to paste the individual items in the cornucopia.
Boy, oh boy, did these kids *flourish* with this assignment. I was impressed with their creativity (some apples were green, some grapes were purple, some corn was mottled just like Indian corn), and the earnestness with which they undertook this endeavor. As I walked around the room sharpening pencils, commenting on color choices, offering time checks, the kids smiled, and eagerly showed me the steps they had taken to make their cornucopia different from everyone else’s.
Midway through the lesson, the teacher leaned over to me, and whispered, “I’m really glad you did this lesson today. I remember when I was in second grade; we did a lot of this type of work. These days, we just don’t get the chance to do much of it; we are too busy focusing on reading, and math, and technology. But look; these kids are really, really happy. They needed this.”
My heart twinged. I thought about how much of the day was a struggle for a lot of these kids; and how that can’t be a pleasant way to live. And I witnessed first-hand one student in particular who, to this point, I have only seen with his head between his hands, squinting at pieces of paper he just can’t read; but who today was productive, and creating, and creative, and vibrant, and alive. He was smiling, producing work he was proud to show me. He was happy.
Granted, not all of life can be the equivalent of color, cut, and paste. But, when those special opportunities do come our way, it’s so wonderful to fully enjoy them. And the kids did that beautifully today.