I’m in New York doing some National Writing Project work at a conference center owned by the Girl Scouts of America. Girl Scout memorabilia and history are prominently displayed and there will even be a s’mores reception tomorrow evening! Girl Scouts and scouting generally brings to mind merit badges and good deeds–organizations that encourage appreciation of the outdoors as well as effective stewardship of the home and community. Many women I meet remember their days as Brownies or Girl Scouts with fondness…and who doesn’t anxiously await the annual Girl Scout cookie sale? Ummm…thin mints!
I wasn’t a Girl Scout. I was a Camp Fire Girl. And other than those in my community and my mother who was also a Camp Fire Girl, I seldom run across others who participated in Camp Fire Girls. It doesn’t have the iconic imagery of scouting or the name recognition, although it still exists today as Camp Fire USA, a co-ed organization. But somehow, in my group of NWP colleagues we discovered a common bond–several of us were Camp Fire Girls! This led to reminiscences of our WoHeLo days and the inevitable progression to our collection of beads and how they were sewn (or not) on our ceremonial vests.
So this morning Judy gave me a gift. She pulls a piece of paper and a small baggie out of her purse and hand me the paper and a small orange bead–a Camp Fire Girl honor bead.
Judy and I also spent some time this morning, in the course of our work, talking about play and its value in the learning process–and all the ways it has been pushed out of schools and classrooms. So what does this have to do with Camp Fire Girls, you might ask? Isn’t it an out-of-school organization? It is–and there is still a connection in my way of thinking! My memories of Camp Fire Girls were of sewing, craft projects, field trips, camping trips, cooking out of tin cans, and selling those butter toffee peanuts–we helped each other when we got stuck, when we needed a next bit of information, or someone to show us how. I remember talking and laughing with my friends as we did these things, and I still remember how to do things that I learned in this context.
In my classroom I want this same kind of playfulness and collaboration among my students as they learn. I want them to make meaning from their activity, from useful approximations that are revised and reshaped through iteration after interation–not required “drafts” from teachers, but student-generated improvements that clarify thinking and move closer to the intended end point determined by the students themselves based on their audience and purpose. I want this in classrooms because organizations like the Girl Scouts and Camp Fire USA are not accessible to everyone–and all our kids go to school (or nearly all). I want playfulness and collaboration to be educational values that are practiced in our public schools as a means of becoming literate, thoughtful, problem posing, and problem solving learners.
I think I’ll find a special place for this small orange bead to remind me that we all need places to play and explore as we learn.