Wigs and Worms

This is a speech that Wendy gave to parents at the Maple Street School General Meeting on April 2, 2014.

So before I begin, I want you to know that writing this speech feels a little like that show Chopped. Have you seen it? Well, you get three ingredients and you have to make something amazing. You’ll see I kind of tried to do that.

The title and topic of my speech tonight is “Wigs and Worms”. The title came from our pre-schooler, Osa, who I asked, “What should I speak about at my big meeting?”

She replied very confidently, “Wigs and Worms”, and pointed to her long flowy pink wig and the black, beautiful squiggly worm compost bin on the table.

I went with Osa’s topic for 5 reasons:

  1. I have never spoken about wigs and worms before.
  2. I love wigs and worms (equally and in different ways).
  3. Noticing and appreciating the present moment, the “wig and worm moment”, is essential to early childhood.
  4. I believe that wigs and worms are central to the philosophy of Maple Street and important to the field of early childhood education.
  5. I would even stretch to state that wigs and worms could help transform common core and high stakes testing back to critical thinking and experienced based curriculum with the trust, research, engagement, and passion of teachers, families, learners, and policy makers.

Before I begin, I would like to offer you some hands on experiential learning during this speech. So, if you would like to try on a wig or touch a worm, please raise your hand. (Many people raised their hands, and the wigs and worms were passed and share throughout the rest of the speech).

Also in the spirit of the Cooperative, I would love a volunteer photographer so we can pair our adult wig and worm experience with our children’s’ experiences of wigs and worms

So because I have never spoken about wigs and worms before, I embarked on my typical research process, which usually involves finding a quote or two and then interviewing children.

The quotes were a failure…
The wig quotes were really bad about monsters and closets, and the worm quote was that early bird quote over and over. Because we are admittedly not a school of early birds, in fact we could be called the late bird school, I decided to head right for the classroom conversation.

I did learn one thing in my Google search; there is a lot of rhyming with wig in early childhood: dig, big, fig, and pigs in wigs are a real highlight.

So I headed to the classrooms. It was nap time so mostly I spoke with the older pre-k gang who we refer to as the “schmoozers”.

We talked about wigs and worms, and what I loved the most was that no child thought the two topics together at once was weird at all (though the teachers did, and tried to combine them. Kristin mentioned a wig full of worms for a medusa like image).

So I began my wig and worm field research.

I asked Asa first, and for some reason whenever I ask the first child they shut me down and I have to re-think the whole process. I have to be honest and authentic and tell you all the truth. I asked Asa what he thought about wigs and worms. He stated, “I don’t like wigs because they are too fancy, and worms are yucky; they are dirty.”

Thankfully, Lilly offered a counterpoint immediately. She replied, “Well, I have 2 wigs at my house and I put them on, and they are red and white and I feel good…and I like worms. I like to garden with my mom and dig for worms and play with them.”

And then the love for wigs and worms began, and then when Sorley spoke I got that deep present moment feeling that early childhood is all about; intention and present moment.

Preschool is all about exploring, learning something new what you love, and being in the present moment. Thich Naht Hanh, a Buddhist monk, and one of the authors of a book we have been learning from at Maple Street, Planting Seeds Practicing Mindfulness with Children says,

“The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence, when mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.”

Sometimes I feel that “blooming” in a conversation with a child, and sometimes an adult, when you listen to a story, or a thought, or an experience, and home connects to school and I connect to you.

Sorley thought for moment and said, “I like wearing wigs, my mom wears wigs like the ones with long hair, they are beige and shiny…and worms, I stepped on lots of them and I study them.”

I thought in that moment, “I love wigs too, because they are fun and funny, build community, make us laugh, and transform us into our playful selves; and worms too, they do the same thing. They are fun and funny, build community make us laugh, and connect us a little more to the earth.” Both feel so sensory and so playful and so preschool.

And, sometimes when you are in your own head and in that present moment and feeling like you have the perfect topic, someone throws you off your game. And that is preschool too at its best thinking, divergent thinking, and knowing who we are and what we like.

And so Daniel added confidently, “I never wore a wig, but I have a Wei.” And Zeca, who started last week, added, “I like horses, can you write that down.”

So I wrote that down and continued on my wig worm journey and asked Henry his thoughts on wigs and worms.

In terms of wigs Henry said, “No, I don’t like them. They are too funny and all hairy.” I asked him if he knew anyone who wore a wig and he said, “Yeah, you do.” Then he added, “I do know a lot about worms. They like dirt.”

So back to our list. We have covered speaking about wigs and worms, loving wigs and worms, and being present/mindful around wigs and worms. So our next question is.

Why are wigs and worms central to our philosophy of early childhood?

First of all they are connectors. Wigs connect us to play; the people who wear them. They lead to collaboration, participation, even passion. They let us pretend and dream.

Lilah explained, “Wigs are funny, I don’t wear one. Osa wears one a pink one to Brooklyn Kids Rock, and sometimes my mom wears a wig; a purple wig to go to Nani’s house. She’s the one with the orange hair and the bubble gum pieces, and sometimes she blows her hair with her wig on, and sometimes my dad wears a pink wig, and I love them.” Mae chimed in, “I don’t even have a wig, I want a mohawk wig.”

Worms connect us to wondering, to the earth, to critical thinking, to nature, to our own being.

Raz announced, “ I like worms. They are like millipedes but different. Millipedes have so many legs. I saw them at the garden and they were very shy.”

Jasper added, “I like worms because they are squishy, but you can’t squish them or throw them on the ground.”

Second they are sensorial touchable, feeling, hands-on.

Lucy sighed, “I don’t like worms because they are slimy.”

Kepler explained, “They are gross and you can’t eat them.” He then added that his parents have hats and not wigs.

And third, wigs and worms are transformational. Wigs transform us into who we might want to be even for the moment, and wigs are a metaphor for dress-up and pretend. Wigs are a symbol of play, which is essential, and our school’s core. Worms literally transform the earth; food scraps into nutritional soil, and by their doing so we understand that by participating in the world we can change it and have impact.

So our philosophy at Maple Street is “wigs and worms”: we connect, we have ideas, we touch and feel the world, we play, we pretend, we transform, we have impact, we have vision.This is our philosophy, and really brings us back to child and human development.

(I have some handouts for you, one on worms, one on wigs, and one on transformational education. You can read them, color them, dress up with them, compost them etc.)

Finally, I said in the beginning of my speech that wigs and worms could help transform common core and high stakes testing back to critical thinking and experienced based curriculum with the trust, research, engagement, and passion of teachers, families, learners, and policy makers. I know this is a bit of a stretch, but I thought I would throw it in there.

While I am not opposed to every test, and believe in solid formal and informal assessment, Diane Ravitch has explained that the reason we have so much testing is because our policymakers don’t trust teachers. If we trusted teachers, we would let them teach and let them do what is right for their students.

For the child development geeks out there like me, trust vs. mistrust is stage one in Erikson’s psychosocial development. It’s from infancy, it’s the very beginning of being safe and able to learn in this world. So, when worms and wigs are played with and studied there is trust there.

That is also true of fish, and jungles, and firefighters, and families, and feelings, and art. When these are explored, studied, and played with there is trust there.

At Maple Street we trust our teachers, families, and our students to learn and play, to have passion and vision, to research, to assess, to use the tools of accreditation, assessment, play, and learning that are valuable and effective.

Finally, we know that real learning and being happens from our authentic selves whether we are worms, or fish, or parents, or teachers, or wig wearing composting pre-schoolers.

So when Osa says, “I have a pink wig and a pink crown and a worm box”, amazing curricula can happen as there is a worm bin in the school, a park across the street, and perhaps Brooklyn might be the wig capital of the world.

And when Jasper says, “worms like dirt,” and Mae says, “Yeah, well they live in dirt.” And Jasper says, “I know that.” They are right, and true and learning…and we too are lucky enough to know what we like, and where and how we play, and learn, and live in the very same way.