When You Plant a Jelly Bean


We planted a jelly bean at school. The kids checked on it constantly today. Several of them said that they thought it was starting to grow.

It all started when we planted flower seeds yesterday. The kids scooped dirt into empty juice cartons, poked holes with their fingers, dropped the seeds in…sunflowers, 4 o’clocks, nasturtiums, and stocks. Then, one boy, more than likely still in the throes of some Easter magic fantasy, suggested that if we planted jelly beans, we could grow some lollipops. We got some more dirt and buried a pink jelly bean in it.

So this is the stuff of which “Inquiry” is made. The kids offer an idea and off we go on a quest for the Answer.

Only four of the twenty-six kids in our class believe the jelly bean won’t grow. The rest of them are earnestly hopeful that there will be a lollipop harvest the likes of which the world has never seen.

Well, this is a conundrum. On one hand, this is pure science, complete with hypothesis, materials, procedure, and conclusion. We put the jelly bean pot in sunlight, watered it. Now, we watch and wait for the lollipop plant that will never materialize. The flowers beside the jelly bean pot will likely sprout, but how will that ever compensate for the absence of a lollipop tree?

It’s not surprising that the kids expect a lollipop tree. For generations, we’ve been filling children’s heads with visions of a Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Elf on the Shelf—an odd little creature that sits watching from strategic locations in the few weeks before Christmas, whisking off to the North Pole at night with reports about good and bad behaviour and then, returning to a different spot the next morning to resume his spy mission. We expect children to buy into these fantasies. We want them to enjoy this brief time of limitless imagination and joy. It’s fun.

It’s confusing.

A small part of me wants to honour the amazing imagination of small children by buying twenty-six suckers and sticking them into the pot. The kids would come in from recess one morning, and their eyes would widen, their mouths would drop open, and it would be magic. Their time to believe in magic is so brief, after all.

A larger side of me wants them to accept the reality of the empty pot. Only real seeds can grow. That’s not disappointing—it’s amazing! A tiny seed has inside itself miraculous potential. An entire apple tree is crammed within a miniscule brown seed. That is the magic, and it actually exists. There are miracles everywhere in this world, if we are open to noticing them. That is the conclusion that I want my kids to discover.

I think that, after the results are in, I’ll find a branch and put it in a pot. We’ll pretend that it’s a magic tree, and the kids can make paper leaves for it, decorate it with bows and flowers. I’ll buy 26 lollipops and we’ll hang them on the branch, and we’ll “pretend” it’s a lollipop tree. Kids are quite capable of understanding the difference between “real” and “pretend.” Understanding that difference does nothing to diminish the fun of pretending.

At any rate, the kids aren’t the only ones who are learning through this experience. I’m so blessed to have 26 teachers.

A Day Without a Voice

I have a real case of laryngitis. I have no voice whatsoever. Being in this state is not ideal for a teacher. I booked a sick day.
No one picked up my job. I went online and checked several times this morning, and there was no supply teacher on his or her way to my classroom. Today is Friday and it was a beautiful day. I guess no one wanted to answer their phone.
I had no voice beyond a whisper, but I wasn’t puking or burning with fever, so I got dressed. I couldn’t bring myself to leave Heather (the ECE in our classroom) to get through a day with 26 small children all by herself. I knew she would’ve faced the challenge without complaint, but I didn’t want her to be in that position. I drove to school, thinking that a day without a voice in a kindergarten classroom was going to be quite the adventure.
When I got to school, I stopped in at the office to pick up the attendance folder, and was told that there were four jobs at my school that hadn’t been picked up. The two learning support teachers (who sometimes cover in these situations) were away, and there would have been no extra bodies to put in my classroom. The union is tracking these situations where there are supply teacher shortages. Another teacher called on my behalf since I couldn’t speak, and they reminded me through her that it wasn’t my problem—it was administration’s problem, and I shouldn’t have made it easier on them. I’m proud to be a representative of ETFO, but in this particular case, although they were right in theory, I had to be a human being first.
Obviously, I couldn’t do any teaching today. Heather did all the talking. Being voiceless for a day brought me many new experiences and lessons. It actually was an amazing day.
Being unable to speak makes a person far more disposed to listening. I realized that I have been talking too much. And since there are so many kids in the class, my “talking” has often taken the form of “calling” across the room:
ME, standing at the sandbox with a group: “B. How do you think it makes J feel when you break the farm she was making?”
ME, glancing up and seeing T and A making shooting noises at the Lego table, across the room: “T and A! No guns at school!”
ME, moving to the paint centre. “Sure, H. You can paint. S, you’d like to paint, too? OK, put on a paint shirt.”
ME, calling across the room. “K! It’s C’s turn to use the iPad!”
Having a voice makes it easy to call out commands and boss everyone around! However, when your voice has been silenced, close communication becomes necessary, and it can only be done with one individual at a time. Group commands are no longer possible when you are mute and connecting with others becomes far more intimate.
Me, bending to whisper in A’s ear: “That’s a really cool hopscotch game you made out of the magnet blocks.”
A, smiling into my eyes, whispering back. “I know. Mrs. Austin, why are you secret-ing?”
That’s another thing. When you whisper to people, they tend to whisper back. The noise level was noticeably reduced in my classroom today.
And I realized that my kids are able to read body language. A finger crooked, and they came over to me. Two of my thumbs up in the air meant “YAY!” and they smiled proudly. A round of applause during a game of Number Concentration, and they all grinned. I received several waves from the top of the climber at recess today. And having to be so close to the kids when I whispered into their ears often ended with some arms around me. I found myself hugging them more, touching the tops of their heads to say “Hi.” And smiling more, too.
And I was so touched by their compassion. “I hope your voice feels better soon, Mrs. Austin.”
“Maybe tomorrow, you will talk again, Mrs. Austin.”
“You should go see the doctor and get some medicine for your voice, Mrs. Austin.”
In the staff room, I sat with another teacher for a few minutes, and as usual, he had me laughing in short order. Of course, it was the “silent movie” version of laughing. After we’d talked for a few minutes, he said, “Everybody here probably thinks I’m talking to myself!”
A group of high school students came to perform for the students today, and my class went to the gym to listen. There was a whole lot of singing going on, and on any given day, I would be the obnoxious person, singing along. When there is singing, I can’t refrain from joining in. I make a real attempt to sing softly, knowing it’s inappropriate, yet I’m unable to squelch my urges. I once attended a Sing-Along Messiah that wasn’t actually a Sing-Along Messiah. Today, however, I was unable to sing a note. I was forced to listen, to be the audience. What a pleasurable experience…
It will be nice to get my voice back, but today I learned to listen more, get closer, connect to one person at a time, and that quiet can be contagious.