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Two little boys come marching in

01/09/03 12:00AM By Edith Hunter
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(Host) Commentator Edith Hunter reflects on some of the insight she has gained from keeping company with children.

(Hunter) Recently I accompanied 7th graders from a neighboring town on a tour of old mill sites in Weathersfield as part of a project to map the sites along the Black River from Ludlow to Springfield. As the lively group chattered and walked happily along, I was reminded of a study in which this age listed seeing their friends as the number one reason for attending school, followed by participation in sports. Doing history projects didn't make the list. Although the project is a good one, and actually visiting the sites is better than sitting in a classroom looking at a map, the project clearly had yet to catch fire with the group.

On another trip, this time with fourth graders, the class had just finished six weeks of intensive study of Weathersfield. They had begun with students figuring out which of the13 school districts they would have attended. Was the school still standing? Was it still used as a school? How far would they have had to walk? They had toured the town's historic sites on a school bus, pausing as fellow students spontaneously gave summary reports of individual projects - on a lime kiln, an old house, or perhaps an historic inn. At the museum, the high point was a visit with our panther whose story they knew well. These students were really engaged.

My third experience was my annual kindergarten visit. I take with me a shoebox with the remnants of the William and Charles Museum. The children sit on the floor as I bring out the turtle shell, the giant snake skin, the porcupine quills, and the show stopper - a pair of gastroliths. These are two smooth stones from the rib cage of a dinosaur. They functioned as gravel does in the gizzard of a chicken. When the children learn the source, they are speechless.

Finally, at a recent local co-op meeting, one mother had brought her three-year-old. During the meeting he sat totally absorbed in a picture book of excavating machinery and farm activities. When his mother started adding up the cost of her purchases using a small calculator, he came over to watch. "Just like Daddy uses," she explained, "when he goes in his office to work on his accounts, and locks the door so two little boys won't come marching in." And this little boy, smiling from ear to ear, turned to all of us and repeated: "And he locks the door, so two little boys won't coming marching in." And we, like a Greek chorus, all joined in: "And he locks the door, so two little boys won't come marching in."

It seems to me that the challenge to educators is to keep alive the magic of the three-year-old, the wonder of the kindergarteners, the involvement of the fourth graders, and somehow to engage those boisterous seventh graders.

This is Edith Hunter on the Center Road.

Writer and historian Edith Hunter lives in Weathersfield Center, Vermont.
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