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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
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THE GREAT LEAP





      Adjacent to the sliding board in our preschool yard is a play structure that has three wide, metal bars a child can use as a ladder to climb. Vertically, they're a foot or so apart, and each bar is maybe 4 feet long.
      On a whim one day I started offering to catch childeren who would dare to leap off the top metal bar. If they need help climbing up, I hold their hands. Many of them don't need it, because at each side of this little structure there's a vertical wooden beam that's easy to hold onto for support.
      Once up on the top bar there are various railings to hold onto for balance. When the child is ready, he or she jumps into my arms.      It's a safe risk. With some of the kids who enjoy a bit of clowning, I start by standing way across the sidewalk, in a rock garden that runs up against the wall of the school building, and holding out my arms right there. I'm talking about 6 or more feet out from where the helpless, tiny child is holding for dear life on to the wooden support beam. He or she would have to fly to leap that far.
      I always look surprised, though, when the boy or girl gestures, "I can't jump that far!" and motions me to come closer. I come up to maybe 4 feet away—to the far edge of the sidewalk—and hold out my arms again, looking up once more with a big clown smile of total faith in the child's abilities! Sometimes I even take my hat off and hold it out for the child to jump into.
      Receiving smiling protestations from the child that to jump into a hat, or to the far edge of the sidewalk, is impossible, I move closer and closer, till the little one is right in front of me. Then I either hold my arms out again or, if necessary, hold him or her by both hands. The child closes both eyes and LEAPS into my arms.
      I close my eyes too. When it's over, I keep them closed and ask, "Did I catch you?" He or she nods or says "uh-huh"—or a nearby child will assure me that the precious bundle has indeed landed safely in my arms. That jumper then runs along, usually to get back in line to go again, as the next person gets ready to leap.
      The bars are wide enough that 3 or 4 children can be waiting at once, perched across the top one. The line goes fairly quickly with the exception of one boy who takes kind of a "zen" attitude toward jumping. He waits and waits for the right moment.
      "Is Carlos ready?" I ask. He remains still as a stone."Carlos isn't ready!" I announce.
     "Carlos still isn't ready!" I intone a little while later. But now Carlos bends his knees a bit. "Carlos is getting ready!" I shout. And finally, Carlos jumps!

      Several of the old-timers who've been flying off the bars for a couple years still insist that I start way back against the school wall every time, and we "whittle down" the distance till it's safe to leap. They love to play at make-believe with a grown-up.
      Some 2 year-olds have no idea at all how to climb to the top rail—or when they're at the top. So I just lift them over, and holding them by the hands, "fly" them to the ground, and they, too, beam with delight.     

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