Inspired by the Daily Prompt: We Can Be Taught! What makes a teacher great?
Two boys, aged nine and four, are visiting their grandfather with their mother, Catherine. Catherine’s father, a widower, lives out in the forested countryside, in a log cabin. The cabin is rustic and Catherine often wonders how he manages out here, all alone. She often complains that it barely even has electricity or running water. She has tried in the past to convince him to move at least closer to town, but has given up the cause as he has been very clear he has no intention of doing so.
This afternoon, they are sitting on the deck, the last rays of golden sun grazing the tops of the trees, illuminating the early autumn colours. They have only just arrived and will be staying at the cabin for the next day and a half.
The boys circle around the two adults, bored, seeking entertainment.
“Grandpa, don’t you have a TV?” Asks Jack, the nine year old, incredulously.
“Yeah Grandpa, why can’t we watch TV?” Echoes Billy.
Their mother, Catherine, dips her hand into the large bag of toys she has brought for this exact reason and offers them a soccer ball. They shake their scruffy blonde heads and lean over her arms to peer inside themselves, trying to see what she has brought.
Their grandfather watches silently for a few minutes as his daughter tries to suggest various diversions for them. Finally, without saying a word, he gets up and, walking past them, goes down the steps and around the corner of the house.
When he comes back a few minutes later, he is carrying a two by four, two hammers and has a rolled up paper bag clenched between his teeth. The bag makes a metallic rattling sound as he wordlessly sets everything down on the ground a few feet from the bottom of the stairs.
He opens the bag and shakes out a handful of nails into one hand, then places them all down on the ground on top of the flattened paper bag.
“There,” he says with finality. A man of few words.
The boys look at each other and then look to Catherine for guidance.
“What is that for?” Catherine looks askance at her father.
“It’s for the boys,” he says simply, “so they can entertain themselves.”
“But what should we do with all this?” Asks Jack.
“Dad, you don’t really think they’re old enough to use a hammer, do you?”
“Well, a course they are, Cat. There are children all over the world doing more complicated tasks than this. Boys, each of you take a hammer and some nails. Hammer the nails into the piece of wood, leaving a bit of space between each nail.”
The boys look at each other again and then at Catherine. She only smiles and shrugs, and so they each pick up a hammer and a nail and face opposite ends of the wood, ready to begin.
It takes them a few minutes of fiddling about, moving the nails up and down and across, positioning them just right, but after about half an hour, they each begin to hit them tentatively with their hammers. Jack starts his first, while Billy stands to one side, but the younger boy follows suit shortly thereafter.
Catherine and her father watch for a bit, returning finally to their conversation.
“What do we do when we’ve got all the nails in the wood, Grandpa?” Asks Jack curiously some time later. His cheeks are rosy and he is concentrating on the task at hand.
Their grandfather eyes the two boys, noting their progress.
“Next, you can pull them out,” he answers finally. “But by the looks of things, you will be busy for a while.”
Satisfied with this next project, the boys continue their work in silence.
“That’s impressive, Dad,” muses Catherine, smiling wryly.
“It’s nothing,” he replies. “A simple diversion. It’s good for them to do something like that. It should keep them entertained for much of the day tomorrow too. We used to do this sort of thing all the time. And so did you and your brothers. Don’t you remember? City kids!” This last comment is said more to himself than to his daughter.
Indeed, Jack and Billy spend much of the weekend happily hammering, removing nails and then hammering again, eventually looking around for things to nail to the two by four. It is one of the best weekends they have ever had.
Teaching is sometimes at its most valuable when it involves providing a child the ingredients and then letting them make something on their own.
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