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
(all stories and pictures © 2004
by Max Reif )
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get outdated.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
"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!"
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
Poor Randy began crying, loudly and piteously.
YOU CAN'T PRY OPEN THE BUD
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
"That was very good!" I said. "Now
I'll teach you how to count up to thirty-two!" She agreedsomewhat
reluctantly, it seemedand 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 usliterally,
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,
"I'LL LEARN WHEN I GROW UP!!"