Keeping The Kids Busy

This is a cross-post from Teacher Tom’s blog. You can see the original post here.


Last week, I found a pair of our three-year-olds holed up under our loft, surrounded by stuffed animals, cracking one another up with rhymes.

“Bunny wunny!”

“Teddy beddy!”

“Doggie joggy!”

It was a silly, almost wild game, one punctuated by breathless laughter and the occasional animal throwing.

One of the most pernicious of our societal misconceptions is the one that suggests that if adults don’t play a hand in keeping children busy, then they will, at best, waste their time, and to your average adult this game was a classic waste of time.¬†They aren’t even using real words for crying out loud!

As a human with well over half-a-century under his belt, I know that the only waste of time is the time spent doing meaningless, joyless tasks at the behest of others. And as a teacher, I know that children, when left to their own devices, invariably play in ways that are, to them, both purposeful and meaningful. These kinds of rhyming games, for instance, are a way of playing with language, exploring it, delighting in it. Experts say that this sort of thing is a building block of future literacy. I can see how this would be true, but I almost hate mentioning it because I know that there are some, influenced by the cult of keeping-the-kids-busy, who will take this information and ruin everything by trying to “extend” it or “scaffold” it, by creating rhyming worksheets or computer games, or to in some other way take it over with the idea of rendering it “educational.”

With the holidays upon us, there will be a temptation to “keep the kids busy” while they’re out of school, to look for ways to make things educational or productive or at least not a waste of time, but it’s a temptation worth fighting. We all need more time to be bored, to be silly, to play. The kids are alright without us adults always butting in: they aren’t wasting their time, indeed, they are using it for it’s highest purpose . . .¬†burpose, murpose, turpose.

“It Will Fall”

This post is cross posted from Teacher Tom’s blog. See the original post.


There are a couple boys in our 3’s class who still struggle with the temptation to knock down the constructions of others, so I was loudly narrating my own activity by way of making sure they knew that this tower was “my tower” and it was not a “knocking down tower.” Naturally, this drew something of crowd.

I announced, “I’m going to build my tower all the way to the ceiling.”

“It will fall,” declared one of the onlookers.

“Yes, it will fall,” agreed another.

They weren’t taunting me, but rather simply stating a fact. Every preschooler knows that there is a limit to how tall she can build a block tower, and if she doesn’t yet know, she soon will. She knows that there is a height limit imposed either by physics, her own capabilities, or the designs of others. Indeed, she knows that this is the destiny of everything she builds with her playthings. And she knows that this doesn’t just go for her, but for everyone. It’s part of the human condition.

Of course, that doesn’t mean she won’t continue to try to stack blocks to the ceiling or the sky or to outer space. On the contrary, for many of us, that’s exactly the point, to challenge ourselves, to see how far we can go before it all comes crashing down. We learn quite young to not cry when our buildings fall, unless it comes at the hands of others like the boys who are still tempted (which is why I was working to “teach” the lesson of “not knocking down”). In fact, for most of them, most of the time, the response is to laugh, often giddily, sometimes even wildly. Many, once they’ve recognized the inevitable bending back toward the earth are even eager to help it along, giving it an extra push.

As an adult it’s impossible to not see this as a metaphor for all human activity: everything we build will fall. We may someday build that tower to the ceiling or to the sky or into outer space, but in time we still know even that will fall.

As predicted, my tower did fall. I had genuinely tried to make to the ceiling, putting my best efforts into it. The taller I built it, the more children gathered around. They knew it would fall, but they were with me, not exactly cheering, but anticipating. Maybe this time the tower wouldn’t fall. And when it did, we laughed, several of them rushing it to get a piece of its demise. Then all around me new towers began to rise in imitation of my attempt, each one a tower “to the ceiling.”

“This Is The Best World We Ever Made!”

This is a cross-post from Teacher Tom’s Blog. See the original post.

I was working a floor puzzle with one of the kids. It’s a popular puzzle, one with fairies, unicorns, and a castle, but everyone else was busy elsewhere so we were one-on-one. Soon, however, we were joined by another girl, and together, the three of us fit the final piece into place. Then we began admiring our handiwork, as one does.

“I’m that one,” said one of the girls, pointing at a fairy.

“Okay,” answered the other, “Then I’ll be that one.”

When I didn’t say anything, I was invited, “Which one are you, Teacher Tom?” I picked one to be “me.”

“And this is my pet,” the first girl said, pointing to one of the unicorns. Her friend picked out one of the butterflies to be her pet, while I opted for a ladybug.

“Where do we sleep?”

“In the castle, silly.”

“Oh, right,” then bending over the puzzle, she pointed to one of the windows on the distant castle, “That’s my bedroom.” So we each selected our bedrooms.

“You’re room is right next to mine, Teacher Tom!”

“And mine is right above yours!”

“We can have a castle sleepover!”

“I’m just going to dive right into our land.” She pretended to plunge into the picture.

“Me too!”

Then in mock panic, “But how do we get back out? How will we get back to our real homes?”

“We just say the magic word . . . Flower!”



“We’re back home again.”

As we played at diving into our magic world, another girl approached, using the language of a master player, “I want to play too.”

“Sure, we’re just diving into our kingdom”

“But first you have to pick a fairy.” The newcomer picked her fairy.

“Then you have to pick a pet.” She picked a unicorn.

“Then you have to pick your bedroom.” When she did, the others gushed, “You’re right beside me for the castle sleepover! We’re going to have movie night!”

“Let’s dive in!” and we all dove in.

We wove a story together about our magic world, forgetting that we were all fairies, switching our identities to princesses and queens. I was assigned, “The old grandpa king.” I was told, “You have to be jolly.”

As we played, I mentioned that we had another castle puzzle and so we decided to work on that one together as well. As the puzzle came together, we agreed that, when completed, we would combine it with the first puzzle to make our magical kingdom even bigger. Once the two puzzles were side-by-side, however, we had a problem.

“But, how to we know if it’s night or day? This puzzle has a sunshine and this other one is nighttime.” After a moment of study, we decided that the nighttime puzzle was where we slept and the daytime puzzle was where we played.

There was one more puzzle on the floor. This one was Halloween themed. “Let’s make that one too. Then we’ll have day and night and Halloween!” By the time we had pushed the third puzzle over to become part of our story, we had been at it for the better part of an hour.

As we stood admiring our work, we drew a crowd with a half dozen other kids gathered around. We explained our kingdom to them, who we were, what pets we owned, and where we slept. We invited them in by showing them how to dive in and return back home. We explained about day and night and Halloween, the three seasons in our magic place.

We watched our classmates playing in this place we had created together. Then one of the girls said, “This is the best world we’ve ever made!” and her friends agreed.