Of Big Kids, Newton, Playgrounds, and Sublimity

As I write this, I sit looking across the beautiful Rocky Hill School campus to the deep cerulean waters that lap our shore.

This week, I had the pleasure to participate in the dedication ceremony for our new preschool playground. I walked with the little ones and their teachers from the preschool to the new installation, where many of the parents, teachers, and staff who had made the playground possible were awaiting them.

Upon seeing the adults standing there, one of the cherubim excitedly asked Ms. Lisa, “Why are there so many big kids here?”

Adorable, of course! But also proverbial wisdom from the mouth of babes.

Her exclamation set me to ruminating on the comment famously made by Isaac Newton:

“I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”

Our preschooler articulated a sagacious truth: At our best, we are never more than “big kids.” I say “at our best,” because the challenge, as adults, is to retain a child’s curiosity, openness to discovery, passion for finding smoother pebbles, and profound experience of the mysteriously awe-inspiring ocean that lies ever undiscovered before us. Our waterfront campus thus becomes not merely a bucolic setting and an experiential classroom, though it is certainly both of those, but also a metaphor for discovery and mindfulness of the sublime.

I find that Rocky Hill School teachers have the rare attribute of modeling these very qualities every day as educators. Put another way, and as I have often said, RHS faculty retain the original passion that led them in the first instance to become teachers, richly fostering in their students the passion for discovery and celebratory learning that is at the core of all true education, little and big kids exploring together on the shores of the unbounded.

Jim Tracy is Head of School at Rocky Hill School in East Greenwich, RI.

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