No, it wasn't all bad! I vividly remember being in the 5th grade, jumping on my friend Lori's bed, singing "Livin' on a Prayer" into a hairbrush at the top of my lungs. There were slumber parties, we made up silly songs about absolutely everything, we played Oregon Trail in computer lab, we actually paid attention during science experiments. We had an epic fifth grade Halloween party in my barn, complete with my super cool 19 year old uncle as the D.J.. My best friend and I were separated in the sixth grade. But, mom somehow managed to get up the money for a pair of hot pink and black LA Gear flames and a Liz Claiborn purse, so I managed to get by without being a total loser that year, even if I did find out that Julie Lewis paid that redheaded boy $2 to ask me to slow dance to "Love Bites" at the Rec Center dance. Anyhow, the forth grade definitely marked the beginning of this school-room-caste-system, at least that's when I first noticed it, anyway.
Now, I come back to Asa and Addison. We homeschool, but we have a class of 3rd and 4th graders. This year, there are enough students for the dynamic to be similar to a typical classroom in a sense. With 11 kids, they can play different games during free time, and talk to different friends about different things. But, the small number, the tight supervision, and the fact that character education is a theme throughout the entire day, creates a strikingly different atmosphere. Early in the year, I laid down the law on behavior, on respect, and on how to treat others. I am sensitive to teasing, even if it is only a sideways glance. I explained to the class that, last year, I created a classroom environment of support and love that I will not compromise. I let them know that this could be their bubble, the place where each of them can be themselves, can be welcome, can be safe from any of those crummy feelings you get when a mean kid comes and ruins your day at the playground. They embraced this speech, and it was evident as the weeks rolled along.
In the last month, we have had a student come to class in a long blonde wig, for no reason other than that she wanted to. No one really cared. It wasn't disruptive, a big deal, or in the way. On another day, Anna dressed up in full Pink Power Ranger costume. At the end of the day, I spoke to Ellen on the phone. She asked how the costume went over. I told her I didn't even think all the kids noticed that Anna was dressed like the Pink Power Ranger. At that point, Addison spoke up from the backseat, "Anna was dressed up like a Power Ranger? Oh. I didn't notice." Talk about being able to be yourself! You can dress up in a dress and wedges, or you can wear dirty camouflage pants. It's all the same. One morning, a group of kids were standing around talking. A boy asked everyone if they had seen the new Tinkerbell movie. They had not, but all of them, boys and girls, were discussing the Tinkerbell movies that they had seen, which were better than others, and making recommendations. Boys can, and do, watch shows like Care Bears and My Little Ponies, and girls can, and do, wear Stars Wars shirts and camo pants. They discuss differences, preferences, and feelings, in matter of fact ways.
At least so far, there is a mature atmosphere of acceptance and a lack of judgement. Perhaps this is not "the real world" of elementary school. But, wouldn't it be nice if it were? Why not expect children to treat each other with respect, acceptance, and with a blind eye to differences? I will never accept eye rolling or a snide comment toward any student within our walls... and all of these kids will reap the benefit of being expected to exhibit social and emotional maturity.
I say it to my kids all the time, when they ask if their paragraph is long enough or their handwriting is good enough, my answer is usually to "just be impressive".
We should all be.
And my boys impress me every single day.