By Stephanie Bartlett
Dimples were deeper than normal as Sienna found her rhythm. She and some friends were joyfully banging copper pipes against the bike racks in our school yard. Metal on metal unleashed a joy in her that I have yet to see inside the classroom. Wide eyed, she looked at me as if to ask “Can I do this?” or perhaps expecting me to be upset. I grinned back at her and asked if she felt the vibrations in her body when she hit the bike rack. And she wasn’t alone. Sebbie unleashed a wild screeching noise as he grooved to the sound coming out of his loud pipe. Another group created a rhythm as they sat in a circle and drummed to keep the same beat.
When our parent volunteer joined the group to guide them through a rendition of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” the enchantment and joy that I first noticed on Sienna’s face lit up the face of each small musician. The story is not complete without a sensory description of the sounds within our group. Snow crunching under our feet. Metal clanging sharply against metal. The quieter, more unified sound of pipes on plastic and metal containers as students drummed that seemed to weave it all together. The laughter.
Merely playing outside with copper pipes does not fit into the dominant discourse of mainstream education but it slides beautifully into how to make sense of Life and our local place. The learning arrived in abundance and I always feel a sense of surprise, then recognition. As one child was pulling a pipe out of a bin, he was saying it was “plus court” (shorter) than the other ones. Another child held up a pipe and we talked about how the pipe was taller than him. Music making transitioned into serious building as some students built an elaborate machine, while others built a camping kitchen and pretended to cook for each other.
We share daily experiences together in nature and we are in the middle of a year-long school-wide sound exploration. These two important inquiries are ongoing and we add to vocabulary and concepts as we go along. As an educator and researcher, I take my responsibility seriously to share my interpretation of these experiences and to place them within a context of joy and a shared love of learning (Smith, 2006). In the highly competitive, fast paced world that we live in (and yes, I rush around too!), I am helping to build life skills for students that will hopefully linger throughout their school career. We are nurturing community. We are learning outside. We are making music. We are wondering.
Smith, D.G. (2006) Trying to teach in a season of great untruth: Globalization, empire and the crises of pedagogy. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers