What If? Dreaming Big

Posted by Erika Bakker, 2nd Grade Teacher

As I help students develop their writing skills, I often have them play with the question, “What if?”.  The children usually ask the question on their own.  It comes naturally.  I help them linger there for a while.  “What if?” is the gateway to all sorts of fun.  We go on long and silly tangents, making long lists of wild possibilities. 

Several months ago, the second graders enjoyed hearing the story called “The Littles” by John Peterson.  In the story, a family of very small people live in the walls of a house.  The Little family watches the Bigg family, borrowing small things, feasting on leftover crumbs and often helping to solve Bigg problems – all without being seen.  The Littles’ creative engineering captivates each group of children who have read the story with me – pulleys and elevators and airplane gliders and household furniture… it has quite the scope for imagination.  Inevitably, someone in the classroom will ask the question, “What if the Littles are real?  What if the Littles were right here, living in our walls, listening to us talk about them?”  Eyes sparkle and we again head down a delightful road of “what if” dreams. 

At our school’s auction in October, the second grade classroom received a donation of $250.  The knowledge of this money sparked a similar kind of “what if” creativity for me.  I found myself dreaming up many different ways of spending the money.  What if I took the students downtown to see a musical?  What if we spent the day in the art gallery?  What if we found a wonderful author and paid him/her to visit us and talk about writing?  What about stocking up our classroom with even more math manipulatives?  Even more books?   The dreaming in itself was a great gift. 

A similar process happened several years ago when the elementary music department received a monetary donation.  I was the music teacher at the time, and I felt gloriously rich.  I spent several weeks dreaming up a thousand ways to spend the money.  Instruments are pricey, so I sought out used ones, hoping to help the money reach far.  I found several instruments on Craigslist that would be ideal for teaching young children to read music.  After making arrangements, I met a lady in a church parking lot to purchase a marimba.  I exclaimed over the beautiful instrument, and the stranger told me several stories of her time in West Africa.  As I pulled out the donated money to pay her, the dear lady told me to put my money away.  She was thrilled that the instrument she loved was heading for a new life in a classroom.  I brought the marimba to school the next day, still gloriously rich.  I searched Craigslist again, until I found a glockenspiel that would add a great depth to our class performances.  Once again I met someone in a parking lot, and once again a stranger suggested that I leave the money in my pocket – they wanted to donate the instrument to our school.  Four times I spent that donation money!  What a blessing. 

This year, when the second graders asked what might happen if the Littles were real, I guided their questions and we developed some plotlines about the Littles living in the walls of our classroom.  Even after several writing activities, the children’s enthusiasm wasn’t waning at all.  That was when my “what if” thoughts about the donated money met the children’s “what if” fascination with the Littles.  I suggested that we write out our ideas in detail and publish our own chapter book about the Littles.  I phoned a few publishers in town and found someone who could take our words and illustrations and publish twenty copies….for exactly $250.   

The interest and wonder that was already in the classroom increased tenfold with the news that our story would be published into a real book!  They dove in with enthusiasm: the editing process, making illustrations, writing our “about the author” paragraphs….what an ongoing gift this money has been!  This week we plan to pick up our books from the publisher, celebrate our accomplishments with a Publishing Party, and make an official book donation to our school library.  (You can check it out!  Autographs available upon request.) 

So you see, a donation to a school is so much more than money.  A donation sparks creativity.  It inspires dreaming.  Teachers receive the donation, smile big, and start asking “what if”.  And once a person asks that question, all sorts of stories take place!