The Perfect Brown Leaf

This afternoon, I had double duty: outside supervision of the playground and inside supervision of the Grade 1 pod. As I was supervising the playground today, a student in another class came up to me. She was so excited! She had the most PERFECT brown leaf. She told me that she found it outside on the way to school, put it in her locker to keep it safe, and brought it outside for recess. I’ve never seen anyone so careful with a leaf. She held it gently on the bottom of the stem and never let it go: even choosing what to do and where to play based on if the leaf would be safe.

That’s when it happened. The bell rang, and just as I was heading over to the lines to bring in the Grade 1’s, I heard a high-pitched scream. It may have even been more of a wail. I looked around quickly, and there was that Grade 1 student, holding that very same brown leaf, that another child had borrowed to look at and broken in half. There were tons of apologies, but this Grade 1 student sadly held her little brown leaf … that was no longer one leaf, but two. Still crying, she took my hand and followed me inside, and I let her get undressed and ready to eat, while I went around to the other Grade 1 classes to make sure that everyone was settled. I kept thinking to myself, how was I going to solve this problem?

It was then that I entered her Grade 1 classroom, and I noticed her quietly eating her lunch. She seemed okay. She wasn’t crying anymore, and she even seemed to be talking a bit to her friends. I decided not to say anything.

Fast forward a couple of hours, and the day was coming to an end. As I was helping my final students do up their zippers and line up for home, I received a tug on my jacket. There was the little girl from lunch. She was holding the two halves of her leaf. Oh no! The tears were going to start again. They didn’t though. Instead, she gave me one of the two halves and asked if I would find a special place for it outside. “Miss Dunsiger, now it can go back to nature!” How wonderful is that?! I took that leaf, and I honoured her request.

I also thought on my drive home about what happened today. How often do we solve problems for students? How can we give students “time” to come to solutions on their own? If I didn’t have double duty today, and I wasn’t trying to get other Grade 1 students settled, I probably would have solved this problem for this student. I would have tried taping the leaf together or going outside in search of another leaf. These solutions may have worked, but they wouldn’t have been her solutions, they would have been mine. Today this student learned how to overcome tears, problem solve, and see things from a different perspective. And I learned that adults don’t have to solve all problems, and tears don’t necessarily mean an increased need for adult support. It’s amazing how much learning came out of the perfect brown leaf.


6 thoughts on “The Perfect Brown Leaf

  1. I believe pretty firmly that if we want students to be good problem solvers we have to let them solve problems. I rarely fix things for students. When a student comes to me and explains a problem I usually offer them some options and ask them what they want to do. I offer help, discuss pros and cons, I may even, in rare situations, say what I’d do, but the choice is always with the student. It’s their problems, they get to figure out how to solve it.

    • Thanks for the comment, Andrew! I love your approach. When I taught Grade 5, I found myself doing this more, but back in primary, I find myself assisting more. Your words and yesterday’s experience are great reminders that even our youngest learners need to be given this responsibility. How will they ever become problem solvers if we solve all of the problems for them?


  2. Similarly to reading strategies, I always ask, “What strategy have you tried? Did it work?” I find that many gr. 2-3 students are now trying to be more assertive when solving problems with peers.

    On a similar topic, while on yard duty, some teachers disagree about whether certain kinds of rough play are “problems” or not. Yesterday I watched a group of 7 and 8 yr olds playing a game they made up called “Crush the peanut”, where they bang into each other’s shoulders. At first I thought, “uh oh” but I watched carefully and discovered something interesting. They were exercising great self-control. The smaller students were allowed to crash with all their might against bigger students and the bigger students gave it their all with students who were the same size, but when bigger students crashed into smaller students they really checked themselves so the play was balanced and fun. I also really watched their faces. They were having a wonderful time and there were a lot of smiles. No one left the game until I said it was time to go home. I am a big believer in a “safe” amount of rough play. With careful observation and risk assessment, I think it helps children develop healthy bodies ad relationships. According to the authors of Big Body Play, it also plays an important role in developing self-regulation.

    • Thanks for the comment, Dawn! I like your “strategy” question. I think that I’ll have to start asking this too. Thanks for the suggestion!

      You also make a great point about physical play and self-regulation. It’s true: when I’m out on duty, I often see this kind of play with students, and it’s hard to know when to intervene. I guess the other question becomes if some students are not showing as much restraint, how do we help teach and/or support them in doing so? Even a game like “tag” can be physical. Figuring out how to exercise control is very important.

      Thanks for giving me more to think about and another book to check out as well! 🙂

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