The Little Boy

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Have you ever read a poem or listened to the lyrics of a song that give you goosebumps and you immediately know the words will stay with you forever?  That’s exactly what happened to me almost 30 years ago when I first heard The Little Boy

As a parent with my own little boy about to commence his first year of school, I was overwhelmed by the sense of conformity that was about to change his life.  Would his inquisitive curiosity, his brain that constantly questioned and inquired, and his uninhibited sparks of creativity be dulled to meet his teacher’s expectations?  The poem left me so very sad at the thought that his unique and limitless potential might not be celebrated.

As a teacher, this poem has stayed with me ever since and profoundly impacted my own teaching practice. 

For many years I read this to the parents of my eager new students at the beginning of each school year in a quest to explain my personal philosophy and teaching approach.  I promised to do whatever I could to celebrate and nurture each of the children in my classroom.  Later, when I saw 30 very different pieces of writing, 30 approaches to solving a mathematics problem, or 30 unique independent projects on display, it was an affirming reminder that I was working towards that goal.

So, I want to share the poem with you in the hope that it might stimulate reflection. 

I wasn’t able to find the original source of this poem but I believe it was written by Helen E. Buckley.  I hope the version I’m sharing here is as close to the original as possible but it may have changed a little over the years as it’s been passed from teacher to teacher.

Please enjoy!

The Little Boy

Once a little boy went to school.
He was quite a little boy.
And it was quite a big school.
But when the little boy
Found that he could go to his room
By walking right in from the door outside,
He was happy.
And the school did not seem
Quite so big any more.

One morning,
When the little boy had been in school a while,
The teacher said:
“Today we are going to make a picture.”
“Good!” thought the little boy.
He liked to make pictures.
He could make all kinds:
Lions and tigers,
Chickens and cows,
Trains and boats –
And he took out his box of crayons
And began to draw.

But the teacher said:
“Wait! It is not time to begin!”
And she waited until everyone looked ready.

“Now,” said the teacher,
“We are going to make flowers.”
“Good!” thought the little boy,
He liked to make flowers,
And he began to make beautiful ones
With his pink and orange and blue crayons.

But the teacher said,
“Wait! And I will show you how.”
And she drew a flower on the blackboard.
It was red, with a green stem.
“There,” said the teacher.
“Now you may begin.”

The little boy looked at the teacher’s flower.
Then he looked at his own flower.
He liked his flower better than the teacher’s
But he did not say this,
He just turned his paper over
And made a flower like the teacher’s.
It was red, with a green stem.

On another day,
When the little boy had opened
The door from the outside all by himself,
The teacher said,
“Today we are going to make something with clay.”
“Good!” thought the boy.
He liked clay.

He could make all kinds of things with clay:
Snakes and snowmen,
Elephants and mice,
Cars and trucks –
And he began to pull and pinch
His ball of clay.

But the teacher said,
“Wait! And I will show you how.”
And she showed everyone how to make
One deep dish.
“There,” said the teacher.
“Now you may begin.”

The little boy looked at the teacher’s dish
Then he looked at his own.
He liked his dishes better than the teacher’s
But he did not say this.
He just rolled his clay into a big ball again,
And made a dish like the teacher’s.
It was a deep dish.

And pretty soon
The little boy learned to wait
And to watch,
And to make things just like the teacher.
And pretty soon
He didn’t make things of his own anymore.
Then it happened
That the little boy and his family
Moved to another house,
In another city,
And the little boy
Had to go to another school.

This school was even bigger
Than the other one,
And there was no door from the outside
Into his room.
He had to go up some big steps
And walk down a long hall
To get to his room.

And the very first day
He was there the teacher said,
“Today we are going to make a picture.”

“Good!” thought the little boy,
And he waited for the teacher
To tell him what to do.
But the teacher didn’t say anything.
She just walked around the room.

When she came to the little boy,
She said, “Don’t you want to make a picture?”
“Yes,” said the little boy.
“What are we going to make?”
“I don’t know until you make it,” said the teacher.
“How shall I make it?” asked the little boy.
“Why, any way you like,” said the teacher.
“And any color?” asked the little boy.
“Any color,” said the teacher,
“If everyone made the same picture,
And used the same colours,
How would I know who made what,
And which was which?”
“I don’t know,” said the little boy.
And he began to draw a flower.

It was red, with a green stem.

– Helen E. Buckley

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Debbie Bassingthwaighte is a teacher, facilitator and mentor who aspires to live her very best life.  Her passion is to nurture and celebrate the unique and limitless potential of every learner.