School Days and Preschool Days, Too:
A treasury of anecdotes culled from my work and play as a preschool worker and an elementary school after-school activities supervisor

(all stories and pictures © 2004 by Max Reif )



       At snack one afternoon in the Elementary Aftercare program I mentioned to a 4th grade girl named Anita that I thought the new salsa we were trying with our crackers tasted sort of weird.     
      "You shouldn't use that word!" Anita said, an expression of shock on her face.
     "What word?" I asked her, puzzled.
     "Weird," she said, still wide-eyed. "Do you know what it means?"      
     "I think so," I told her. "If you bring me a dictionary, though, we can check it out together."
     Anita left and returned a little while later with a thick Children's Dictionary. We opened the book and leafed through to the Ws. The only definition given for "weird" was "pertaining to the supernatural."
      I flipped back to the front of the dictionary and found the date of publication opposite its title page. The volume had come out in 1970.
      "This is an old dictionary," I said. "Sometimes people start to use a word in a new way and old dictionaries get outdated. It's how we talk that's the important thing."
      "Yes," she said matter-of-factly. "But to use a word in a new way, you have to get one of those little slips of paper from the government."
      "Little slips of paper from the government?" I repeated, having no idea at all what she was talking about. "This is the United States of America! People here don't have to get permission from the government to use a word the way they want."
      "Oh, never mind," said Anita, feeling that she'd been made wrong and climbing inside herself.
      She was still standing nearby a little while later, though, when Ms. Clea, the school librarian, happened by. By including the librarian, I found a way to re-open our conversation.
      "Ms. Clea, this young lady thinks you have to get a slip of paper from the government to use a word in a new way," I made my appeal. "Do you have any idea what she's referring to?"      
      Ms. Clea stopped, a bemused expression on her face. "Are you talking about getting a copyright certificate?" she asked thoughtfully.
      "No, not copyright," replied Anita. The three of us stood there in thought until a light slowly came over the librarian's face a moment later.
      "Poetic license!" she said, smiling broadly as she shared her revelation.      
      "That's it!" said Anita, her own face beaming with satisfaction. Ms. Clea and I explained to her that you don't actually need a Poetic License, the way you need a Fishing License or a Driver's License. We two adults were relieved and amused, and Anita felt understood. We had solved the linguistic mystery.


     I was working at a jigsaw puzzle with a kindergartener and a third grader. I'm pretty good with puzzles up to a hundred pieces, able to appear a genius, in fact, to small children. Beyond that size, though, when dozens of pieces are the same color and roughly the same shape, I get completely flummoxed. This particular puzzle was right at my limit.
      In the midst of our silent concentration, the kindergartener suddenly piped up, "I wish my dad was here! He knows more than all of you! "
      To which the 3rd grader promptly responded, "Oh? Does he know his times tables?"
      Smiling with enormous self-satisfaction, she added, "I do!"


     A couple days ago Randy, a preschooler, was upset because another boy was playing with a toy airplane Randy wanted. I said, "Take it easy, buddy. He's not going to play with that toy forever. "
     Randy immediately approached the other boy and asked him, point-blank, "Are you going to play with that toy forever?"
     "Yes," said the other boy, nodding his head.
      Poor Randy began crying, loudly and piteously.



      A cute, blonde three year old proudly told me one day, "I know how to count up to thirty-one!"
      "You do?" I replied. "Let's hear you!"
      The little girl joyfully proceeded. She was pretty accurate, too, though I'm not sure I'd go to her as my bank teller.
      "That was very good!" I said. "Now I'll teach you how to count up to thirty-two!" She agreed—somewhat reluctantly, it seemed—and we did it.
      From then on, every day when I'd see her in the play yard, I'd tell her, "Today I'm going to teach you..." and I'd add one number. It got to be a running joke between us—literally, as she'd usually be running from one end of the play yard to the other when I'd shout my proposal.
    After the first couple days she would no longer say "ok". Instead, she'd smile or laugh and shake her head. I always went up a number, anyway, for my next offer, as though she had agreed to the previous one.
     Last Thursday, when I told her, "Today I'm going to teach you to count to thirty-eight!" she actually got out of her little posse of horses, or whatever it was, running along the sidewalk, came over to me, and shouted to me in no uncertain terms,


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