THE WEEKLY VISIT TO THE LOCAL NURSING HOME
It was May 01. Happy May Day. What better way to celebrate than to create a May Pole at the nursing home? The sun was shining, the flagpole served as a perfect May Pole and provided a smooth surface so that five or six residents could join us in the celebration. I used tissue paper for the ribbons and I am ever thankful that tissue paper breaks easily. You will have to use your visual imagination for this so get ready. Now imagine there are 10 kindergarten/first grade children and about six of the residents from the nursing home standing in a circle each holding a flowing piece of tissue paper. The music begins and the children start walking around in circles as do the residents. Then the children slowly begin to pick up momentum and gain speed while the residents are slowly walking in circles. Before I knew it the children were running full speed in circles and as a result they began to pass the older people. Imagine what happens..slowly the residents began to get wrapped up in the flowing tissue paper. They started to look like colorful mummies binut laughing the entire time until…the tissue paper ran out of slack, tightened and broke leaving me the job to unwrap a few of the older residents.
Story two, from years past. This time it is Halloween. Wahoo kids party at the Nursing Home. There was scary music playing then great dancing tunes playing and everyone was dressed up. All but one older gentleman in the corner. He was, to us, a bit more confused than the other residents. He began to get scared and started yelling. The sound he was making was obviously (to us) a clear indication that he was not pleased with his current surroundings. A look of nervousness shot through me. How do I explain to a child that an older man is afraid of costumes and fake ghost sounds? At the moment a young boy jumped right onto the mans lap, rested his hand on the wheels of his wheelchair and said “Happy Halloween. I know what you are. You are making the noises of an ambulance. Are you an ambulance for Halloween?” It took this child about one minute to express this thought and that one minute changed everything. I saw a problem, an old man that was clearly not quite in touch with was happening and felt an unexplainable awkwardness. This little boy saw nothing. He had no worries or reservations. He just saw a man and was totally honest in his approach.
THEY ARE ALWAYS LISTENING- 1/5/2012
I don’t know what it is about children cursing but I find it very funny. I never laugh in the moment, I maintain a professional tone but inside I can’t wait to tell somebody. Part of the humor is that they don’t really understand what they are saying, children are simply repeating what they have heard. Although on this one occasion the words I heard were used in perfect context. A little too perfect.
Flashback…again. At the original school the playground area was very simple. Not too many plastic toys and stuff. You know the idea that children have fantastic imaginations. There was however, one plastic automobile that had been recently donated. It was the kind a child can sit in and pretend to be driving. There was one child who was clearly taking full advantage of his new found love of driving. He was in there for a long time. We are talking road trip long. The other boy was waiting patiently until he reached the frustration level. I quietly observed the situation unfold, noting that this would be a great chance to observe conflict resolution and communication skills as long as there was no physical road rage everything would be fine. The boy that was waiting leaned into the car and I heard a whisper of name calling. Harmless, kids stuff. Until I heard the drivers response. Here was the conversation.
Waiting boy- “You are stupid. It is my turn to have the car”.
Boy in the car – “Oh yeah, well you are fucking asshole”.
YIKES, WH….WH…WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY? Needless to say we had a meeting.
TURN ON THE WIMPLES!
To make a few extra dollars while working summers at the camp I took on the role of bus driver prior to the start of the day. Well not exactly a “bus” driver since that is reserved for the pros. I drove a station wagon and was responsible for picking up three children. The first stop was a very young girl, one of the youngest campers. In this story I will call refer to her as Kiara. The second stop was a twelve year old boy. He was partially deaf and was fluent in American Sign Language and knew a bit of Spanish. The final stop was Steven, he was deaf. I thought this was a great chance for me to learn a few basic signs and few basic Spanish words from Kiara who was young and bi-lingual although she tended to get Spanish and English confused. She was difficult to understand at times.
And then…… Prior to my morning route I discovered the windshield wipers did not work. I went on my morning route and picked up Kiara. I looked in the rear view mirror and saw this very cute, pig tailed young girl and yet it was very challenging for me to hold a conversation. Stop number two was not coming to camp. No big deal except this boy was my main form of communication with the other two children. Riding in silence is not really my style so it was a concern. By stop number three the rain was coming down and I noticed Kiara was slightly nervous back there, alone in her giant station wagon seat. Steven gets in and we are on our way and now it is raining even harder. It was clearly bothering Kiara. She kept telling me “put on the wimples!” I was confused and looked to Steven for some help but he was even more confused than me. I was looking to a hearing impaired seven year old to help me decipher what the six year old Spanish speaking girl was trying to tell me. She continued to say, with conviction “put on the wimples”. What the hell is a wimple in any language was my thought. And then one hand motion from Kiara clued Steven in and he made the motions of windshield wipers. Wimples = Windshield Wipers. I did not even bother trying to explain why they were not on from the start. All I could come up with was a shoulder shrug and “broken”. I hoped that would suffice.
I felt like I was the start of a good joke. There was a suburban white boy, a Spanish speaking girl and a deaf boy in a station wagon…..”
To this day I ask my wife to turn on the wimples when it is raining. And all of my stories are true first hand experiences.
CRASH AT THE FIRST TURN
After working with kids for so long I have realized that there are certain patterns of interest. There was one boy who loved NASCAR. Everything he did involved race cars. In the block room he made a nearly life sized model of race car, in art he drew pictures of race cars and when he was in the library, he wrote and read books about race cars.
My classroom has a lot of windows that face out and look across the campus. This is so that the adults can watch the children as they move from class to class and building to building. The walkways are gravel and sort of snake through the fields. I was looking out the window, towards the art building. I saw the race car lover running along the path at full speed. He was even pretending to shift imaginable gears along the way. As he approached a turn in the path, his legs slipped out from underneath him and he was airborne. I went out to make sure that he was alright. He didn’t hit his head, he just had a skinned knee and his elbows and hands were slightly bloody. Once I knew he was okay, I said “That was a pretty good fall, what do you think happened?” Without hesitation he said “Well I was going along on fine I got to turn one, dropped the hammer, then lost control But I am okay.”
I was ready to console a boy that just fell and scraped his knees. He was ready to pretend that he was being interviewed by the camera crew covering the race.
THINK FIRST BEFORE YOU MOVE
It has always been my belief and practice that teachers should find ways to introduce material without the children realizing that they are learning. The basic approach is simple, spend time working in groups and figure out each child’s interest. If they like reading books about the ocean chances are if you use books about the ocean to support reading development there will be success. Today’s model for education is to disregard the needs and wants of children and attempt to teach them by sheer repetition and testing.
Over the years I have noticed that many children are interested in the game Chess. Not all play by the rules. For some children the King, Queen, Rook, Knight and Bishop are all just characters in a well created story and the chess board is the kingdom. A perfect time to introduce and focus on creative writing. Other children pick up the complex game of Chess quickly.
….and here is today’s story. There was a very shy boy in my class, not only shy he was clearly socially awkward. His mom told me that he really loves playing Chess and asked if she could bring in a Chess set so that he can play during the day. I sat down to play a match. My goal was not to beat this six year old, the goal was simply to get to know him better. He beat me in about four moves. We played again and he beat me quickly. I am no Master but I can usually hold my own while playing chess. So we played once more and I tried this time and I lost. I did notice that his classmates started to realize that the teacher was losing to a six year old. He started teaching other children how to play and before we knew it the room had five Chess sets and a handful of children learned how to play. Chess requires the children to use a wide range of math skills not to mention the ability to think ahead and remain organized. I was playing with my six year old challenger again and this time, in the middle of the game I knocked the board off the table. I wanted to see how he would react. I was expecting a meltdown of epic proportions. I said that we could just start over. He said “we don’t have start over, just help me pick up the pieces”. I watched in awe as he put every piece back on the board in the same spot they were before I knocked over the board. He memorized the layout of the board. He couldn’t recognize the alphabet or spell his name but clearly he had a fantastic ability to learn. I used chess as the jumping off point for most of his formal learning.
The progressive philosophy is not rocket science, in fact, it is education in its purest form. The focus is in on helping children learn to love the process of learning and not demanding that they learn what we have to teach them.
I played countless chess matches with him in the course of a year and I only won a handful of matches. He once walked in on Monday morning with a trophy. He came in second place at the local high school chess tournament.
The dialogue between the two children is what makes the conversation so endearing. I wish I could convey the body language and inflection during this interaction.
I have had many challenging conversations with children in my time but last week may take the prize. There is a girl in the class who was adopted when she was an infant. Jennifer is very aware that she was adopted and her mom is very direct and honest with her about the circumstances of her adoption. Jennifer and her classmates were playing a game and Jennifer rolled the wrong number, it was her turn to sit out a round. All was good and fun until I heard one of the other children say, “Jennifer, the orphan is out of the game now,” exclaimed Kate. I immediately brought the children to another room to discuss what I heard. I know the children in my class very well, my first question to Kate was, “You do know that Annie is a movie, right?” Laughingly she said “Yes, I know that.” And now our serious conversation could begin.
“What does it mean to be an orphan?” I asked. “An orphan is a kid that does not have a mom or dad.” Kate replied. Jennifer’s mom is very involved in our classroom so it was easy for me to make the connection. I thought it would easy to connect the adopted mother/daughter relationship with both people in the room. “Well you know who Jennifer’s mom is, she is in our room all the time. Amy is Jennifer’s mom”. I was proud of myself, I thought I brought a quick resolution to our discussion until I heard Kate ask, “Yeah, but Jennifer said she is adopted so Amy is not her real mom.” Holy cow, this conversation just got very challenging. I explained that a mom is someone that takes care of you, makes you lunch, takes care of you when you are sick, gives you hugs and loves you all the time and Amy is Jennifer’s mom. “Yes, but she is not her real mom, she was adopted so that means she was in an orphanage and got adopted.” Apparently I was not doing an adequate job describing the difference between birth parents, adoption and orphanages. Dammit, I hate Annie right now. “A real mom is the lady that gave birth to me”, said Jennifer. This was my moment- “there are no real moms and real dads, there are just moms and dads. “Your Dad did not give birth to you-he is not your ‘real’ dad- he is just your dad,” I explained. It did not sink in, she was not reaching the enlightenment I had planned on and I was hesitant to go into too much detail because I did not know how much Jennifer knew about her adoption. She could just not let go of the clear fact that there must be a connection between being adopted and being an orphan. She asked Jennifer, “so you are adopted. That means that you were in a big room of beds and your mom came in and picked you out, right?” Did I mention that I really HATE Annie right now? Finally Jennifer spoke up with a confidence that I wish more adults had.
This next section is a conversation between the two children, it may be hard to follow because of the dialogue but I am trying to paint a picture in words. Jennifer- “A lady got pregnant and gave birth to me.”
Kate- “She gave birth to you in the orphanage?” (SCREW ANNIE)
Jennifer- “NO, I was never in an orphanage, the lady gave birth to me in the hospital.”
Kate- ” Oh, you were born in a hospital by your mom?”
Jennifer- “No, she is not my mom, my mom is Amy. The lady that gave birth to me was struggling at the time and couldn’t take care of me so the doctor called Amy and she wanted to give me a home and family.”
Kate- “mmmm, I don’t know what struggling means.”
Jennifer- “The lady had two other kids and so it was too much and she would not be able to take care of me so the doctor called Amy and now she is my mom.”
Kate-“Oh, I get it now. You were born in a hospital, not an orphanage by a lady that was struggling and now Amy is your mom.”
It was challenging for me to hold back the tears as I was listening to this child explain adoption. I admire her parents a great deal, she spoke with great confidence and compassion about her adoption. It is so clear that she knows that Amy is the person who loves her and will love her forever. Apparently this entire conversation brought back some memories for Kate, while she was walking out the door I could hear her humming under her breath, “Its a hard knock life for us, its a hard knock life for us…” Damn Annie.
IT IS WAY UP THERE.
Lunch was over and we bundled up to go outdoors. Anyone that has children or works with children realizes that this is an ordeal. I was watching this one boy and he was having a difficult time. He couldn’t find a mitten then his zipper got stuck and finally he was ready. We were outside for about five minutes when the same boy came up to me and asked “Hey Todd, is it alright if I go back inside? I have a really big weggie, it is way up there. I can’t get it out with these big gloves on.”
Oh how I love the honesty of children.
Yesterday was our annual trip to see the performance of the Nutcracker. Our school does not have buses so we rely on parent transportation. Since I have a pick-up, I borrowed my mothers car who happened to be visiting this week. The time came for us to load up and head out the door, the kids ran outside and stopped in their tracks when they realized there was a fancy sports car in place of my truck.
“Who’s car this?” one girl asked.
“It’s Sparks grandmother’s car”, I replied.
“Sparks grandmother drives a fast sports car. She must be a cool grandma”. she said
“If this is a grandmother car, that means you are driving a chick car, Todd.” said another girl.
The performance was fantastic as it always is. The performance is only open to early elementary aged children. It is impossible not to feel in the Christmas spirit when you are sitting in an opera house full of about 250 young children. When the first curtain opens, you can hear the collective gasp of 250 kindergarten aged children, in awe of the set and loud music. What the children in my class did not know, was that I had made a plan with the eighth grade children. While we were at the Nutcracker the older kids were busy decorating our classroom. I supplied them with enough materials to make it look like the lobby of FAO Schwartz: 118 feet of light, 80 feet of garland, two cans of fake snow, countless window stickers, 30 hanging snowflakes and 25 feet of a paper chain and they added to that- a tree, more snowflakes and a lot of ribbon and huge Merry Christmas signs around the room.
And so we arrived back at school and the children walked into the most festive classroom ever. They walked up the stairs and there was silence, just gaping mouths, in awe of what our classroom had become. It was a great-you could say magical feeling. The only comment I heard was, “Elves were here”. I sense a tradition in the making.
A quick one.
I passed a boy that was just coming out of the bathroom and I noticed that he did not wash hands.
“Don’t forget to wash your hands when you are done in the bathroom”, I reminded him.
“That is okay, I don’t have to wash my hands. I did it without touching any parts”, was his response.