On my way home from lunch today, I was suddenly so excited to have eight more months for living in India.
A past week including my one-month anniversary in the country and the city, new prospects, and projects launching like so many spaceships brought me to that afternoon moment. Last Friday, I was finally able to open my can of map-making worms with the principal group of students who I came here to work with, the children living at the Sphoorti Foundation. It was wonderful. I arrived – we all said hello – and none of the English speaking folk were there, so about 20 children and I sat and looked at each other for a few moments. Hm.
So I started handing out maps. Each stage of our day started out hesitantly, then puffered with tidal enthusiasm : two, three kids took an atlas or a map; two, three friends peered down with them; then everyone was coming to collect, choosing to look at a city map or a regional map or a museum plan or pack in around one of the atlases to see population, natural resources, or to find India among the assortment of countries sprinkled on the oceans. They were making observations, talking with their friends, more children arrived from here and there, trading and choosing and discussing, and all this without any real input from me because what could I say?
And I asked, with my hands, if they had something to write with. One girl came to give me a pencil so I handed her a piece of paper, and she didn’t want it, but… another girl did. Then another, then a sweep of tide.
The level of control that these primary school students have is amazing. I can’t compare it with a similar situation in the United States because a scenario where one adult gives vague instructions and around 60 children respond how they like, while two or three other adults are someplace in the background – could not happen. Their attention span was incredible, and the way they cleaned up was unbelievable. One adult and one 13-year old who speak English arrived shortly after I finished handing out paper, so I was better able to make explanations and answer questions, but the majority of interaction that was needed was just enthusiasm and attention when someone came to show me what they were doing. They were doing a lot. Virtually all of the 60-odd maps showed me India, but the unique touches scattered throughout were particularly wonderful. The country would gain cities, the land around would acquire names, maybe the oceans too, Sri Lanka might appear. Mountains grew in China, and India turned the colors of its flag. One student wanted to draw a train and ended up with a map populated by modes of transportation, another wanted to draw a globe and ended up coloring the climate zones.
A wonderful thing : other resources had appeared before I even finished handing out the paper. Workbooks from school that showed maps, a small globe, a laminated wall hanging of Andhra Pradesh, all convinced me that the constructivist concept of children as researchers will work spectacularly here. My 13-year old translator told me that he thinks my plan for the rest of the map unit sounds good.
After maps we had a dance, and after the dance we had lunch. After lunch was almost a week, and then suddenly excitement.