I watched my son, Noah, playing in the brick house at the Ontario Science Centre with about 20 other kids.
I watched him for two hours and was mesmerized because I felt as if I was privy to a display of what children’s natural behaviour is, both individually and collectively.
I stared as my son collected the grey, very lightweight bricks and carried them up a set of stairs to the second floor of this open wooden house. He did this over and over again, as did the other children, ages (about) three to seven.
The thing that really grabbed me was Noah and his fellow builders acted with such intent, as if this was a groundbreaking task. Like ants building the queen’s castle, they ran up and down the stairs, mostly smiling, and with forward-looking gazes, as if they had been contracted to erect a special structure on a deadline. The entire scene looked like it had been created by an adult with knowledge of teamwork.
At the brick house, there appeared to be a unified objective. Yet when I looked at the group differently, I could see each child was also acting on his or her own. One child piled the bricks on the second floor. Another turned the wheel that cranked up a ladder-like structure to transport the play building material. In some ways, the children were flying solo, clueless or not interested in what was happening around them.
My son verified my perception when he told me, “Daddy, everyone was doing something different.” This was after I asked him what was going on in the house. Interestingly, Noah said later that “all the kids” were building something together. He seemed to intuitively understand both dynamics.
While there was unity, with no fights, I also saw individuality in that house.
And I was baffled by the following actions: the children would build up the bricks so that they covered the pillars holding up the house, then, after great effort, they tore down the structure. This happened a lot.
I surmised that the kids were actualizing their natural drive to organize and create, as they do with Lego, then they were drawing upon another equally strong drive – destruction – the need to pull apart what they had made so they can once again rebuild, this time better.
At the brick house, children did get tired while creating this anthropological masterpiece. A few cried after being bonked on the head by a brick. But all of these expressions of frustration or venting came and went quickly, unlike what normally occurs on a jungle gym in a schoolyard, where aggressive interaction frequently leads to a breakdown of what seems like a symbiotic community.
I believe I was witness to something extraordinary at the Science Centre that day. First, I was able to be with my boy and watch him with great interest as he was the Noah for which God created this world – the individual. And I had the opportunity to study my son’s behaviour as part of a collective – similar to the one that left Egypt and later constructed the State of Israel.
Throughout those two hours, I was an eyewitness to human nature at work and the sheer determination and sweat of toddlers and children expressing their essence alone, and together.
I was in awe.