Here are 10 lessons that I learnt or were reminded of from the kindergarten celebrating my son's birthday:
- The power of music. When all of the students sung "happy birthday" to my son, every student was involved orally and physically. Not one student appear uncomfortable with being involved and it was clear that that the students were highly enthusiastic and were happy with working with one another.
- Students leading learning. Throughout the celebration, my son and one of the teachers sat on chairs at the front of the class while the rest of the children sat on a mat. With the support of the teacher, my son talked through his portfolio and was at ease sitting above and at the front of the class, with students and teachers asking questions. The other students were highly respectful and I was really impressed with all of the students' understanding of the importance of the portfolio and how to ask questions about another student's work. I was blown by the authenticity of this experience.
- Another part of my son leading learning during his celebration was that he got to choose one game for the students to play. He chose his favourite game "Duck, Duck, Goose" which naturally involves students running and chasing each other and a huge amount of laughter. When Aidan led the activity, all of the other children were very focused in their listening, playing to the rules and it was made sure that every student was involved and most importantly, having fun!
- The importance of artefacts. Another part of the celebration had my son present his self-made clay cake to the class and explain why it had been made in the shape of a hand with candles on each finger. The coolest part of this exercise is that the students are given the clay, paint, glitter etc, candles AND nothing else. The cake is their imagination made reality They can make their make in any shape, any form, they have complete ownership of the process and they are responsible for making sure the cake is ready for their birthday. A similar process and presentation involved the birthday hat my son had made for the occasion. Once again, the other students wanted to know why he had animals on his hat and why he had chose certain colours.
- One of the last part of the kindergarten party involved presents in a Thomas the Tank Engine party bag. Whereas in a normal birthday context, the birthday boy or girl receives gifts, in this case the child having the birthday gives gifts to the kindergarten. This is a brilliant idea, emphasising the importance of giving over receiving. With my son moving on, this was a tremendous learning experience for my son and me. Suffice to say, the kindergarten now has a lot more Thomas the Tank stickers and stationery and books! The latter is a immensely powerful statement to the younger children; that one of the senior students soon to be leaving values reading and is passing this message on to those who remain. A great example of powerful student-to-student role-modelling!
- The documenting of the occasion. I am very fortunate in that my son's kindergarten freely embraces the opportunities that digital technology offers for learning and imbeds such technology seamless into the educational pedagogy and practice of the learning space. Obviously as a very proud parent, I used considerable memory on my smartphone recording and photographing the occasion. However what was even cooler was the ease of the kindergarten doing likewise using iPad and then sharing their material via email and the digital portfolio platform Story Park. Aside from this digital documentation of my son's birthday, there will also be paper visibility displayed by Monday, thus symbolising the importance of the occasion beyond just today.
- Learning service and sharing. The kindergarten party closed with a unique distribution of my son's hat, cake and portfolio to us, his parents. While my son sat very proudly on the birthday seat, one student at a time took each of the above and gave them to us. This was an awesome way of involving students other than my son in his occassion, let alone authentic learning experiences of sharing, collaboration and community.
- Valuing other learning people's learning activities. Needless to say, my son was very excited and happy with such a fuss being made of his special day but what followed immediately after his celebration was very cool. The kapa haka (Maori Performing Arts) group from the neighbouring full primary school came over to perform songs for Matariki (the Maori new year).My son was given the choice of going home or staying for the kapa haka performance. Without any hesitation, he said he wanted to stay and ended up being a very interested and engaged audience member for someone else's moment. Funny enough on the way home, he was more interested in talking about the performance he had just seen and what it all meant.
- The involving of the family in the celebration. My son was very fortunate in that two of his grandparents and well as his immediately family were able to attend his celebration. Despite my father being a first-time visitor to the the kindergarten, he was greeted as an old friend and immediately was put at ease and made incredibly welcome. This kindergarten goes to extraordinary lengths to engage and involve the students' families in the learning and communication process, often involving considerable time and effort on behalf of the staff concerned.
- Timing is everything. The timing of my son's birthday celebration took priority over the kapa haka performance of 50 visiting students and allowed for family to actively be involved. In putting this celebration first, it was clearly emphasised how important this celebration was, not just for my son but for the kindergarten as well.
In closing, there are huge benefits in high schools learning from what kindergartens do in celebrating and acknowledging special individual and collective moments. My son leaves this kindergarten empowered,confident, valued and competent in learning (digital and beyond) and ready to grow again in a new educational context. High Schools must seek and indeed do the same with their constituents. When it's our turn, we must remember to celebrate, trust and empower our students and most importantly of all, make sure the candle of learning is never blown out.
Thank you and take a bow Conifer Grove Kindergarten!