Since the beginning of the school year last fall, every other week, on Tuesdays, my advisory teams up with a class of kindergarteners. The 8th graders become older mentors to the little kids, become their “buddies.” We have gone for walks together, made cider using a cider press, read books, and played games. The 8th graders nearly all complain about the days we meet with the 4 and 5 year-olds. Their complaints often sound like the frustrations they have with each other — “They don’t listen to me,” “They say they don’t like me,” and “She never wants to do what the rest of the group is doing.” For the past month, each 8th grader and their one or two buddies have written a story, illustrated it, and practiced performing it. We saw almost half of these presentations today.
We pushed tables around, set up the chairs, and manipulated the lights so that it was like a theater space in the room. The first group got up and their story was a riff on Star Wars replete with an inspired fight with light sabers (made from rolls of paper). This was followed by a princess story with one of the five year-olds losing some pennies from her pocket during the performance, breaking her character as “Aurora,” and explaining to the audience, in great detail, that these were her coins that her mother had given her and she needed to pick them up “right now.” (As she started to get to all of the reasons why she needed to pick them up, her 8th grade buddy was able to distract her back into the narrative of the play.) In another play, the buddies on stage asked the audience to watch them dancing on a train when a small boy in the audience shouted, “You can’t dance on the train. That’s dangerous!” We saw five plays today. We have nine more to go.
I know that it is probably considered “cool” by middle schoolers to complain and moan about one’s little buddies, but as I watched these 8th graders interact with 4 and 5 year-olds, as I saw them work together to create a raw and genuine form of theater, as I saw the respect, generosity of spirit, and easy sense of humor shared in each group, I couldn’t help but complain myself— “Why can’t we do this more often?”