“POOP” In the Classroom

When I entered our classroom yesterday morning, after the children had gone outside with the earlier staff, I found POOP on our “chalk wall”. Several POOPs, in fact.

I am sure other people have noticed. The other staff, parents, relatives, children…there is often POOP in my room. It always seems to be somewhere, and no matter how often we clean it up, it mysteriously appears again. The POOP started appearing in the summer, and, amid the wild giggles of children who profess no knowledge of it, always manages to appear where we are. It is in our classroom, sometimes the playground, and it even appeared in one of the preschool rooms we were borrowing one evening (although the POOPer politely cleaned up before leaving).

Surely, something must be done about this. As the educator, a responsible adult, I should be putting a stop to this, and why haven’t I?

Well, when the first POOP appeared in dry-erase marker on our light table in the summer, I had a choice to make.

After all, I am a responsible adult, and POOP is no laughing matter, right?

But I am not the center of this equation. I have been striving to keep the question “what are the children learning?” forefront in my mind when I make decisions. Sometimes this is challenging. It means constantly confronting my views of myself, the world, and the child. So, why was the POOP a problem? “It is a silly, dirty bathroom word”, “Parents might not approve”, “Colleagues might not approve”. But…what are the children learning? And where were these messages coming from?

I am going to tackle the second question first, although it somewhat wraps into the first. When the First POOP was discovered, I could feel the curious little eyes on me, gauging my reaction to this “bathroom” word. Adults seem to have a funny relationship with “toilet” humour. We simultaneously seem to consider such topics off-colour and inappropriate, while laughing our faces off over zany stories and well-timed jokes about bodily functions. Why do we find the things our bodies do so offensive? Girls, especially, are often socialized with distaste for body humour. But why? The reality is that our bodies make funny noises and smells, sometimes they do weird things. Truly accepting our bodies means accepting all those functions (and their smells and noises). In all my google crawling to research this, I couldn’t find anything on this area specifically, so I am going to go purely on opinion now: how you address bodies and their functions to children helps teach them about how to think, feel and respond to their bodies. Since our bodies are beautiful, intricate and interconnected systems all wrapped together, it makes sense that one part influences another. If you teach someone that one part of that system is bad, wrong, disgusting or shameful, that thinking will naturally leech into other areas. I was fortunate to be raised with an interesting transparency about bodily functions (then again, animal poop was “scat” and let us track different animals in the woods). As a result, I often find myself less phased by certain body questions, comments and situations (for lack of a better term), than some adults I have met. I encourage children to be clear with me about their physical concerns, and I think it is very important for children to feel comfortable talking about their bodies. While I am in no way suggesting that a few fart jokes will solve everyone’s body-relationship issues, I think that there is still the chance that acknowledging the quirky, strange and sometimes smelly ways of our bodies with lightheartedness can help build a comfortable familiarity with the realities of having a body.

But I digress! Onto the juicier bit. Humour is an important social, emotional and cognitive function for many people. Think of the way you laugh and joke with your best friend, versus the way you might laugh around some tightly-laced professionals you don’t know. Think of the blissful catharsis when something goes so wrong you can only laugh at it and move on. The satisfaction of the moment when the punchline of a cleverly crafted joke clicks into place. Humour, oddly enough, according to the Incongruity Theory of humour, is actually a response to something absurd, that “violates our mental patterns and expectations” (Stanford). A loose wire, of sorts, that sparks when we try to make the connection. In other words, it forces us to change the way we think; it makes new connections. In the fertile ground of the developing brain, those new connections are accepted readily and built upon. It is, for all intents and purposes, mental play. In addition, there is now some research suggesting that children who have better senses of humour are more resilient and socially successful (2, 3). Although adults might find it strange, humour focusing on the body is developmentally appropriate for young school-aged children, and they will refine this humour with time and experience.

Obviously, at the time that I found the POOP, all of this was not flooding through my brain. I did pause though, before wholeheartedly choosing to embrace the silly, fun moment of expression that a child had experienced in scrawling POOP across our light table.

So now I have POOP in my classroom, and what has happened?

POOP, while not a challenging word, contains a challenging phonetic quirk: the double “O” sound is often confused with “U” by early writers, quite understandably. Although I am confident that every child in our class now knows how to spell POOP very well (although they rarely admit to it), I feel there is more important learning at work here: the sense of belonging, and the power of jokes (and in this case inside jokes) in creating that sense of belonging and community. The POOP frequently brings us together: co-conspirators armed with chalk or dry-erase markers will work together to sneak it in somewhere, and the group has developed an interesting code of silence around this. They rarely, if ever, let out the identity of the POOPer. When a new POOP is discovered, we tend to fall into silly hysterics for a few minutes as I (or one or more of the children) pretend to be shocked that there is yet more POOP. The children are demonstrating their developing theory of mind (independence of thought and awareness that their minds are completely separate from those of others) by “tricking” me and their classmates in friendly and harmless ways. In addition to everything above, they are also working as a group to make the joke work, and they are incorporating acting (whether by pretending to be aghast at more POOP or by acting as though they didn’t do it, Hollywood has nothing on these children).

As odd as it might sound, POOP really does make our class a little better.

Sources:

  1. ) Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/humor/#IncThe
  2. Building Resiliency in Children Through Humor; Nurture and Thrive. http://nurtureandthriveblog.com/building-resiliency-in-children-through-humor/
  3. How Humor Facilitates Children’s Intellectual, Social and Emotional Development; Paul McGee. http://www.laughterremedy.com/articles/child_development.html
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