What Can A Crashing Canvas Teach You About Independence?

On Thursday, I had a couple of unique experiences at school, which when coupled by some wise words from a fellow educator, have me thinking even more about classroom environments and student success.

Let me begin with a story. It was around 1:00, and my teaching partner, Paula, was about to return from her lunch. I was really intrigued by some recyclable houses that a group of students were creating in our MakerSpace area. I was speaking to one child about her house design when I heard a crash. You can hear it too at the end of the final video in this Instagram post.

I looked up from my recording when I heard the noise, and I noticed something surprising. Our giant canvas fell on the writing table. What was even more surprising though — in the most wonderful of ways — was how a group of three, five-year-old girls dealt with the problem.

I couldn’t help but see the humour in the few small problems that eventually led to this falling painting and incredible problem solving. Later on in the day, as I was still chuckling, I told another educator about what happened. His response made me pause. He laughed too, and said, “Children really read how we respond to things. By not making this into a big deal, they didn’t either.” What a great point!

In my 18 years of teaching, this is probably the first time that a situation like this has ever occurred. Even more so though, it’s the first time that children went to solve a bigger problem without shouting for a teacher, running over to grab an adult, or causing a full class reaction to a big bang. In fact, none of the other children even stopped what they were doing or went over to investigate. Why? There are a few possibilities that come to mind.

  • Kids were immersed in their learning elsewhere in the room.
  • Kids are used to some crashes over the day — be it a falling block tower or a million Perler Beads that drop all over the floor — so they look quickly and move on. 
  • Thanks to Paula, and what she’s taught me, our responses are never urgent ones. We try not to go running to problems or responding to them in a stressful way, but instead, observe, reply calmly, and work through the problems with the kids. Thinking about what this other educator said to me, since we don’t panic, kids don’t either. 

We have also worked hard at getting students to solve their own problems. Even when we’re involved in problem solving, we’re likely to ask questions or provide choices to still give children ownership over the solution. I can’t help but wonder if this is why a big falling canvas didn’t cause a big response.

I’m thinking of this even more in conjunction with another problem that happened a few minutes later. I left the room to go and grab something from the staffroom, when the principal grabbed me to do some First Aid. As I was involved in my first, First Aid experience, there was a little First Aid problem back in our room. As the kids were cleaning up, Paula got a scratch on her arm, and it started to bleed. She realized the problem, but as she went to solve it, a child went and grabbed her a wet paper towel and climbed up on a chair to get her a bandaid from on top of our filing cabinet. Problem solved. Paula didn’t ask for the help, but when a student saw the issue, she took it upon herself to solve the problem, much as the three children did moments before.

I can’t help but think about these two experiences and the upcoming school week. Small problems regularly occur in the classroom and at home.

  • How could all of us modify our reactions, at times, this week? How might we be calmer, slower to respond, and allow for even more independence?

I continue to reflect on a comment that I’ve heard many times before: “Kids these days can’t seem to do anything on their own.” I look at these many four- and five-year-olds that show us an incredible amount of thinking, problem solving, and independence every single day. What causes independent problem solvers to become less independent? I think about the way that I used to teach before I started working with Paula, and how I responded to problems. I was far more likely to respond quickly, more emotionally, and with a solution in mind, versus allowing for this independent problem solving. Looking at our students now, versus many kids that I taught in the past, I would say that ALL of these children are way more independent. I wonder then …

  • Could kids do more on their own if we, as adults, gave them more opportunities to do so?

If five-year-olds can rescue a painting, move a log, and “perform First Aid,” imagine what else they can do! And imagine what older students can also do. Let’s enter a new week with the belief that anything is possible, and prepare ourselves for wonderful. Are you with me?


2 thoughts on “What Can A Crashing Canvas Teach You About Independence?

  1. Very encouraging! And I agree, we need to be more open to giving our kids opportunities for independence. I’m just excited my kid helped problem solve here! 🙂

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