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"Get Out the Voters"

I only really 'teach' 90 minutes a week. I am the lunch teacher. On Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays I have lunch with the 4-6 children that stay into the afternoon so that the teachers can have a 20-30 minute break. It is one of my favorite times of each day.

It is short. We are eating. I don't have a huge agenda. I want them to eat well, have some calm and quiet down time, have interesting conversations (sometimes these two things do not work well together!) and I want us to enjoy each other's company. A couple of years ago when I started doing this, I found that reading to the children helped them focus on eating a bit more since the talkers of the group often don't eat very much in 25 minutes! So, we read. With the older children we used to read chapter books. It is fun - and I would pick out a few and tell them about them and have them vote since we would be reading it for such a long time. So, like two votes a year. This year the teachers have been talking a lot about our book collection and clearing it out, so I have been reading picture books. I would pick three each day. Since the grown-ups in the country vote every fall and it was in the front of my mind early in the year, I thought we would vote for the books, although often we do have time for all three. We use the apple sauce lids as 'voters'.

Here we are in January, and as I reflect on the 4 months of lunch time, I find the whole thing really interesting.

Kids like to get their choice - be the one that is picked or the one that gets to pick. It is adults who decides who gets a choice though, and often they do not feel like this is fair. Often one of the most frustrating things at school to a child is when one child gets to pick something and you don't - or you wanted something else. We see this in circle all the time especially when an adult is running the show. When we started the year I explained voting. Most children knew the word and had an idea of what the concept was. Our vote at lunch is very transparent. You can be assured there is no voter fraud in the lunch group. They all see exactly how each of them votes. I have them tally the vote and tell me which book won, which came in second and which was last. Sometimes it is unanimous. That is kind of cool. I realize though, we have NEVER had an argument or even much frustration over which book we are going to read. Voting is a concept that each of the children deem fair.

When we get ready to vote there is discussion about their candidate and sometimes an effort to get your friend to vote for your book. "This one looks really good. We should both vote for it." "No I read this one before, it is really funny, you should vote for it." Lobbying is alive and well but does not always work.

It has become an expected and natural part of this time of the day. In both groups, often, the child still waiting to wash their hands will get voters for the table, one for each child. We vote. This is what we do. There is often more arguing about what color voter someone got than about the book we end up reading. We have agreed that as long as everyone has only one vote, you can choose whichever voter you want.

We have had a few tie votes. I don't have an answer for them. We tally the votes and at first they would look at me to know what to do. But I just state the fact - "I don't know which one to read since they both got two votes." When this happens there is about a 3-5 minute discussion about what to do, some disagreement, and then a compromise. "If we read yours first, then we can read ours after."

I don't vote. I am not sure why. I just didn't start and so now I don't. I didn't want to influence their votes and have not wanted to be the deciding vote. But, I also realize I do sometimes want to read one more than the others. I may ask them if I should get a vote. I think, I will also start letting a different individual pick the three books each day. I am not sure why I haven't done that before because by picking the books I still have most of the control. I can give that back to them.

In the 4-5s class I brought up the idea of chapter books on our first day back from break. We only have one that we didn't read last year. I told them about it and they were interested. I told them if we decide to read it though, we would stick with it, it would take many many days to finish. We voted - Chapter book vs Voting for Picture Books. Picture books won 3-1. I think the voting is what actually won. I think they like having a say and I think they like the idea that there is a civil way for them to make a decision in a group. I love that it feels natural and right to them. I love that they have come to expect it and that they know that they - the children - as the citizens of the lunch time community have a voice even if they do not always win. We vote in class too - just not necessarily on a daily basis. But I think it is worth creating more opportunity for it as I think about it now. An expectation that making choices as a community is not easy, but there is a fair way to do it - and it is just simply a part of what we do as a school and as a democracy. They have a right to have a say. Children should expect to have a say in their communities and in their education. They should have a opportunity to learn that their voice, their opinion and their citizenship matters.

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