Saturday, January 24, 2009
It was our first year in New York and the kids were not the only ones feeling a bit nervous about finding new friends. While they had a pool of new people to pick from during school hours, I found myself at home, unpacking, and feeling like I knew no one in the state beyond the nice guy at the transfer station and the regular clerk at Stewarts Gas Station. So I started volunteering in Sam’s kindergarten class.
From the first day I loved being there. I had signed up to help with writing time and I quickly realized it fit right in with my background in education. I began to come early and stay late. And just by hanging around I learned a lot.
"We can’t do everything right in a day." I heard his teacher say it many times and it warmed my heart. Not only for the forgiveness and grace it placed on the five year old she was saying it to, but because it reminded me that sometimes stuff just happens. And usually no one dies or is brutally maimed, so let it go. Move on. Don’t let it mess up even one minute of your day.
"Belly to belly, knee to knee." Often the children would face each other and share ideas about their thoughts and their writing. To stay focused on just their writing partner they had to face each other (belly to belly) and sit very close (knee to knee). Listen, really listen to the people who matter to you. Look them in the eye and pretend no one else is on the planet. Think about what they’re trying to say and don’t let the TV, dinner, work or interruptions get in the way.
Surround yourself with great art. Not expensive art. Great art. Hand prints dipped in paint that will double in size in just a few years. Happy rainbows and flowers dripping with glue. Construction paper hats and kites, clinging to the light fixtures. String it all up, on all four walls, so that wherever you look, you see something beautiful. Don’t just put up the best, put them all up. Celebrate every interpretation and every variation.
Keep little hands busy. Almost every activity the class did involved hand motions or movement. Busy little hands don’t have time to poke a neighbor or pull a hair braid. I wish I’d thought of this when I had toddler helpers at the grocery store. Hand rhymes don’t have to be reserved for rocking chair moments. They work just as well in the middle of the grocery store.
Surround yourself with rotating books. Every week I saw a different reading selection on the classroom bookshelf. Sometimes they were season related, sometimes holiday related. But every week there were some of the old favorites and some new ones added in. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, or read it all, challenge yourself. Look in a new section of the library. Cruise though the newsstand for something you’ve never read before. Who knows what new thing you might learn?
Respect beats fear any day. Mrs. B. was all about discipline. Her students knew the rules and knew what happened when you didn’t follow them. Some struggled to tow the line but they all seemed genuinely eager to please her. They respected her and loved her because she returned the favor. Anyone can be harsh and brutal. Compassion and loving guidance can be more difficult to dole out. But everything runs more smoothly and everyone feels more peace when love and respect are given freely.
When twenty three smiling faces walked across that circle time carpet on the last day of school they graduated with so much more than new reading and math skills. They may never realize it but I’m sure they learned a lot of the same lessons I did in our time together. How a friend can be waiting through the next doorway and life really does relate to what we learned in kindergarten.