I remember being in a classroom as a child, but I don’t remember school wide projects focused on one theme. Perhaps those early years in college spent with the reggae band Jah-Bone had a blurring effect on my early childhood memories.
Yet this memory of Ezra’s school is clear and fresh, so I’ll write about it now, so you can picture him in his new digs, and he will have at least one childhood experience stored in cyberspace for him, should the internet still exist in 30 or 40 years.
A few times a week, when I unpack Ezra’s backpack/lunch box, I discover a letter from the school. The letter is of course in Dutch, which means I can either ask Arie Jan to translate, or I can take out my dictionary and have a spontaneous Dutch lesson. A week and a half ago, I found a note in Ezra’s backpack and with dictionary in hand, discovered that there was an event at the school Wednesday evening, that everyone in the family was invited to attend–grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters–the whole extended family. Children in all grades (4 years to 12 years) were studying the Helaal (universe) and at 7pm, we could all come to the school to see their projects and participate in a treasure hunt and party.
I had hints along the way, as Ezra asked about rockets and stars, and suprisingly, when I pointed out the different planets in a book, he knew Mars from Uranus, Saturn from Jupiter. I was impressed. Clearly, he is learning at his new school. But this didn’t prepare me for the transformation of the school into NASA headquarters junior or the Dutch equivalent.
When we arrived at school, the playground was full of screaming, running, laughing children, a few street lamps casting long orbs of light over the chaos. Parents milled about, talking to one another, while trying to keep an eye on their children dashing in and out of the darkness.
Finally, the doors opened and the sizable crowd made their way into the school. There was no orderly introduction or set of instructions. You were left to your own accord to explore the solar system. Each classroom was three dimensional. Planets suspended from strings pulled your gaze upward in one classroom, a 10 foot white rocket made of parachute material invited you to climb within, in the next. Teachers handed out a packet with the treasure hunt instructions and children eagerly started their quest into the universe.
Not one for crowds, Ezra held onto my hand with a fierceness that said, don’t you dare let go. When we finally got to his classroom, he relaxed his grip as we explored all of the bright, festive creations hanging from the walls, on the table tops, taped to the windows. We came to a display of silvery moon rocks made out of some unknown material. Ezra pointed to a blob that resembled a half melted Smurf dipped in silver.
“I made that one,” he proudly announced. I also discovered a collection of rockets with his name on it.
When we left Ezra’s classroom he demanded that dad carry him. There would be no compromises. I understood. There were so many people in the halls that you had to edge your way through them, and from the perspective of a four year old, this would be like navigating your way through a dense thicket, but with the plants moving against you on both sides. We glimpsed into the classrooms of the older children and the artwork and concepts were more advanced, exciting even.
We treated the last few moments of our Heelal adventure like a trip to a museum, asking Ezra which was his favorite piece of artwork in each classroom. Soon, he was tired of the game and asked to go home. But when we got outside, he climbed up on the play structure with one of his friends, and spent the next 15 minutes yelling at the moon in Dutch with the other boy. We watched, happy to see him fully in himself, playing with another child his age, shouting with glee.
The next day when I dropped him off at school, the universe looked less dynamic in the morning light. The classroom tables and chairs had been returned to their normal positions, the artwork stacked in a neat pile for take home. So much work and effort put into a project, a celebration at it’s completion and then its over. You move on. Just like in adult life.