Last week, I was trying to fit in a few minutes of the math we hadn’t gotten to that day. I normally don’t let lessons run into the evening, wanting Tennyson to rest his mind with the rhythm of the closing day. “Pay attention. Show me two other groups you can make from these 5 cubes.” He was fidgety, half-occupied with some giant legos he found more interesting that moment than the cuisenaire rods. Mildly frustrated but not wanting to force it, I freed him to play. A short while later, he called me to see what he had built.
I was taken aback.
It was a section of a neighborhood. Lego steps rose against a wall. In front of them stood two bipolar arrows. Much like the street signs that confused the hec out of me when I moved to CA, where the same street has one name if you turn left and becomes another if you turn right. Tennyson explained this way to the sunflower fields, that way to the houses. I told him you call that residential. A black sedan faced the arrows, waiting for a gate bar to lift.
I had pushed him, tried to get him thinking. Turns out, he had been. Plenty. I knew of the power of play and that yes, to kids that is work. But to see it played out was a lesson for the teacher. The distraction in his eyes at the math table had been the possibilities he was entertaining for the building blocks. He ended up designing, arranging, organizing a piece of a town, imagining someone behind the wheel in the car. We impose curriculum on young kids when, given the chance, they can suppose, experiment, piece life apart and back together.
Pictures would be essential for this post, but I was too tired to make another trip downstairs for the camera. The next morning, I was bummed to learn Peter had taken it for his Samba class. Of course my son’s model suburban clearing was soon to be swept away in the ever-busy playroom, and with it, my chance to capture a xerox for the blog and family keepsake. My requests for a reconstruction of the car-signs scene seemed to fall on deaf ears. When I wondered to Peter why Tennyson wasn’t rebuilding it for me, Dad joked, “Pay him.”
We have shied far from bribing – and its similitude, rewarding – in our parenting.
Desperate, I made my pitch. “Tennyson, Mommy will give you TWENTY-FIVE cents if you recreate the signs and the gate in front of the car for her.” Whether his was an otherworldly detachment from Mammon, an immature grasp of the value of twenty-five whole cents, or a dismissal of Mom’s stingy bargaining, it was no dice. He had moved on to his next undertaking, one of his beloved assembly projects, a lego duplo ATM.
Had the quaint display been not much more than the object of a mother’s pride? Or bona fide architectural craftship? Without the photos, it remains to be seen but the point is the value I saw in the cogs and spokes that turned my boy’s head during “play”. And I could do worse than a child who manufactures ATMs.