Several years ago, in the hurried hour before young families leave for school, a parent accidentally tipped her large, scalding mug of green tea down her four-year-old daughter’s back. They spent the next two days in the hospital, treating a painful third degree burn that would eventually heal without scarring.
When she returned to school after her stay in the hospital, Mary proudly displayed the bandages wrapped around her torso. She told her friends how funny it was to see her mom driving to the emergency room in her PJs, and how much it hurt to have her burn washed with the pretty pink soap. The kids responded as the always do: they listened attentively, expressed their amazement and concern, then returned to the business of childhood.
We hemmed and hawed through the morning, wondering how to manage playground time. It was a beautiful spring day, too pretty to keep Mary indoors. The sandbox (her favorite) seemed out of the question. Playground equipment seemed too risky. Katie volunteered to have a conversation with Mary in the shade of a tree. Everybody liked that idea.
They did have a conversation beside a tree, briefly. Then they skipped to another tree and started dancing. No music, of course, just two little girls dancing, using a tall old tree like a maypole. Fifteen minutes of joyful dancing, then Sarah and Emma joined the dance, and started a game of ring-around-the-roses; a breathtakingly beautiful moment.
An older child included the girls in a game of “Simon Says.” Katie and Mary lost every game. Neither one of them can resist the impulse to move. Sarah and Emma never could get the hang of hesitating before following the instructions. Nobody cared. The conversation, cheering and laughter continued.
Education is not usually spoken of in terms of compassion and beauty, but it should be. A ring of girls dancing around a tree, playing in the shade on a glorious spring day, laughing away discomfort… unforgettable moments for children, and for adults attending to those educational experiences that should truly matter.