Yesterday I looked up from a reading group to see one of my students standing on the carpet, mouth open, staring through toy binoculars. She was supposed to be sitting on the carpet retelling the story Scaredy Squirrel with her friend. The binoculars were a part of the center, but they were not for her to use, they were for use with the toy squirrel as the kids retold the story. I'd modeled how to retell it using the objects so there really shouldn't be any confusion on the subject.
Scaredy Squirrel, in case you don't know, is a scared squirrel who refuses to leave his tree. He is scared of just about everything- germs, green Martians, sharks, poison ivy, and killer bees. He takes all sorts of precautions to avoid leaving his tree. Then one day, while looking through his binoculars he sees a killer bee. He panics, jumps from the tree, realizes he is a flying squirrel, glides to the ground, and then starts to take more risks in his life. There is a whole series of this little squirrels adventures. I highly recommend reading them.
Watching my appealingly aimless friend I took that brief teacher moment where you contemplate what to do. I could leave my reading group and go lecture her on not following directions. This would disturb my readers but maybe next time she'd do the right thing. Or I could stay with my readers and hope that she'd make the choice to come back to get to work on her own. At which point I would praise her for making such a good decision. The praise would influence her future behavior more than a lecture. She wasn't being disruptive, just aimless.
So I left her there but kept a look out from the corner of my eye.
Suddenly she dropped the binoculars, yelled "ahhhhhhh!!" threw her arms out to the side and ran across the carpet. A big smile spread across her face and she repeated the whole series of motions, the long staring through the binoculars, the "ahhhhhh", the arms, the running and smiling.
That's when I realized she wasn't standing there just blankly looking through binoculars, she was actually acting out the story. It was exactly what I wanted the kids to do. The entire purpose of the center is for the kids to interact with the story using their imaginations. I want them sequencing the events of the story through play so that they are really spending time with the story.
She was actually being Scaredy Squirrel. She was watching for danger as she stood there, looking around with her binoculars. Then she was seeing the killer bee, panicking, jumping, flying, and realizing that she could be brave.
She wasn't doing exactly what I had told here to do, but she was doing exactly what I wanted her to do. She got the story. In fact, she got it enough that she could independently act out the plot line.
I went back to my reading group silently, but smiling as she panicked, fell, and flew across the carpet over and over again. If I'd zoomed over with my own agenda I would have squelched her creativity in that moment. I'm so glad that for a moment I was a kid watcher instead of a kid-teller.