I keep thinking about Tuesday afternoon in my classroom. I feel like I should share it. But it feels strange to centre a blog post around a lot of crying. And it is the crying that is significant. There was a lot of crying on Tuesday afternoon in our room. The crying was full of sadness. Some stemmed from grief. Some was about pain – pain from remembering, pain from missing, pain from past and present hurts. It was about loss. Loss of place. Of people. Of security.
Some of the crying was just because there was so much crying. Because we are connected. We are wired to feel, to care, to absorb the pain and emotions of those around us. At one point, at least half the class was shedding tears. In one child it was a single tear rolling down a cheek. In another, little sniffles. In others, full out sobbing with dripping noses and wails. We all shared in these tears and it was incredible. Incredible and necessary and full of promise. I continue to be in awe of all of that crying.
How can I begin to explain?
It began with a read aloud.
In the days before Remembrance Day, I planned numerous read alouds about war, peace, voice and hope. Remembrance Day was not what it was in my childhood where war was definitely long ago and maybe far away. Today, many of our lives have very recently been touched by war and conflict. I have refugee children sitting in my classroom. I teach students whose families were forced to flee their home countries because of politics, safety and war. Students in my room have experienced recent loss. They have listened to bombs. They have lived in camps waiting for safe passage. They have been part of making a new home in a new place.
So when I read a book about a child living in a war torn place where peace did not exist, I knew it was an invitation. An invitation to wonder. To talk. To share stories. Those things might happen. It was at least an invitation to listen. I was prepared for any of it as in not really being prepared at all. I was just open. What might happen would not be unexpected but I had no idea what to expect. I just knew I had an important book to share.
A Child’s Garden: A Story of Hope by Michael Foreman (2008) remains one of my favourite titles to share in this context. It is gentle and honest. It doesn’t hide from how hard war is for a child as it portrays a fierce commitment to a hope for a different future.
How do we talk about war and conflict with children? How do we honour peace? Sometimes all we need is a place to start and this book provides that place.
One child broke down in the final pages. She apologized for not holding things in. This book had made her remember her own family’s recent experience with war. We assured her that it was absolutely okay to cry. I had her come and sit beside me and helped her share a little bit of her story with her classmates. By this time, others were also crying. Some children uncovered their own sadness and many tears erupted. Many of us were crying together for many reasons, some with nothing at all to do with the story.
We made space for all of these tears. It is significant in so many ways to sit and cry unabashedly in your classroom surrounded by a class community. The room grew more quiet and still and we honoured all of this crying.
We gathered in a circle and held hands. I asked a child to turn off the overhead lights. We sat together while many children cried. Many watched and absorbed. Nobody needed to tell a specific story. Nobody was told to stop. In letting ourselves be in those emotions, without hushing, consoling and being asked to move on, out little circle of crying became safe and beautiful. Snippets of stories were told. The listening was intense. There was room also not to tell but just to be. Keeping everything in often hurts more than letting it out. A big cry in a quiet room surrounded by others who are present with you is a pretty beautiful thing.
I sat with my students as witness. I looked at each one in the eyes and smiled. I held little hands. I nodded. I knew it was my role to shift the energy eventually, to help us move to what was next. But I didn’t feel the need to rush it. I didn’t let a room full of crying children and contagious tears scare me. I gave it time. I didn’t swoop in to fix or fuss or brush tears away. To stop emotions is to say there is no place for those things here. And there is big space.
“Aren’t we lucky?” I said instead.
“Aren’t we lucky we can feel so safe? We can cry here and remember sad things together. We are lucky that we care about each other. That we are all here. That we want to know each other’s stories. We are safe here.”
Then I guided.
“Flick on the lights.”
“Get in line.”
“Open the door.”
We walked down the hall in a large mass. Some still sniffling. Someone brought along our now mostly empty tissue box. We went to the gym and raced around. Did silly stretches. Played a familiar game that let us run and shoot and shout and cheer. And laugh.
Eventually, we headed back upstairs to our room to have ice cream cake. It was somebody’s birthday. What perfect, perfect timing. Apple juice. Cake. Birthday songs and wishes. More giggles.
At the end of the day, many chocolate smeared faces beamed at me. I got a lot of squishy hugs. One child whispered, “Can we read more books like that? It helped me remember my country.”
Yes! Yes we can. Yes we will. Yes we have. (See the list below for titles that I shared later in the week or have in the pile for next week and moving forward).
“I like how that book was so sad. That’s why it was my favourite,” one child explained to me on Friday as he wrote about the books. I asked him why he loved a such a sad book so much. “It let me remember, ” he explained.
So that is our work for this next while. Remembering. Telling and hearing stories. Feeling all the emotions. We have decided to make our exploration of this question: What is peace? the theme of our year.
The little one who was first so moved by this story shared these words in her Reader Response book on Friday.
I liked A Child’s Garden because I remember my country. And I finally take every thing in my heart and share it. I really liked that everyone was caring about my country. My dream and my wish is to go to my country and see everyone. I hope that war is going to finish.
“I finally take everything in my heart and share it.”
This is everything. All that crying in our classroom on Tuesday allowed for this. A lot of crying changed our room. I feel so absolutely blessed and honoured to do this work. To learn from the children I share my days with. To be a part of a classroom community that is safe. That cares. That can sit in the dark and cry together. That has decided to begin answering one of the most important questions that can ever be asked: What is peace?
This little paper was passed to me Friday. It is the beginning of the thinking and wondering that I hope will fill our room.
Here is a list of more titles we will be reading together as a class. This is a beginning. We will find others as our inquiry, thinking and questions lead us other places.
My Beautiful Birds by Suzanne Del Rizzo
The Journey by Fransesca Sanna
Lost and Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush’s Incredible Journey written by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes and illustrated by Sue Cornelison
Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey by Margariet Ruurs Artwork by Nizar Ali Badr
My Two Blankets by Irena Kobald and Freya Blackwood
Why? by Nikolai Popov
Peace by Wendy Anderson Halperin
Sami and the Time of the Troubles by Florence Parry Heide and Judith Heide Gilliland and illustrated by Ted Lewin