When I was in college, to help make ends meet I took a job at a daycare center as an assistant teacher. I didn’t know a whole lot about kids, but it was plain to see that the general state of the children was aimlessness. There was a clear lack of resources at the center, as well as an overall absence of enthusiasm. Some of the kids were quite rough, and (sadly enough) every now and then a fight would erupt.
After a few days, at recess, I decided to apply the concept behind the kids’ story, Stone Soup. First we needed a train–something easy and familiar that would gather attention. Kids fell in line behind me and the line grew longer. We wound through the playground, around a tree, over a swinging bridge, through the sandbox. All the kids had a sense of purpose.
When we reached our campsite, a patch of grass, we sat in a circle around a rubber tire, which became our kettle. I told the kids I needed a square meal as much as they did, but we’d need stuff to make a soup. Just our luck, I said, here’s an ear of corn–and I put a stone in the center of the tire. The kids took the cue and scattered across the playground collecting stuff.
They’d come back and drop a tuft of grass in the tire and say, here’s some cabbage. Here’s an onion. I caught a fish. We took turns stirring the soup. A few minutes later I used a make-believe ladle to fill their make-believe bowls, and we ate with make-believe utensils. We traded adventure stories about the pretend hills and forest where they collected things for the soup. Some stories were only one sentence long. Others were longer, but they all wanted to contribute. Not one kid was bored. No one was misbehaving.
The experience taught me how easy it is to inspire kids to focus. It doesn’t take any special resources. You don’t have to be a genius, and you don’t need a bunch of gadgets. It’s enough to remember that a little direction goes a long way.