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


     One of our preschoolers is the three year-old son of our two first grade teachers. One late summer day the mom and dad were having a hard time getting their prep work for the new school year done because of the demands the little fellow was making on them. I offered to watch him for a while if they'd let him go outside with me and play in the sandbox. They were happy to oblige.
      The day was hot. We turned the hose on in the sandbox. I also brought with us a big box full of hard rubber animals. (In fact, I think the product was called "Box O' Animals".)
      The little boy was happily playing in the river he'd made through the sand, picking up animals and dropping them, one by one, into the water. He was quite self-sufficient. The only thing I had to do was keep track of where the submerged animals were. So far, that wasn't very difficult.
      As he continued his play, the little guy began talking to me about the fates of various animals he'd dumped in the drink. "Where is our friend the fish?" he smilingly asked me. I tried to find our friend the fish. It wasn't as easy as I'd thought.
      "Uh-oh, our friend the gorilla is going to get wet!" the boy warned, and then—splash—true to prophecy, he dropped our friend the gorilla, who promptly also sunk beneath the opaque surface of the sandy river.
      We piled some of our rubber friends on a cardboard boat and began sailing it down the stream until they, too, sank. I tried to rescue various animals just to keep track of them, which was getting more and more problematic.
      The little fellow and I had a whale of a time for an hour or more— literally, for one of the animals was "our friend the whale". Then we collected all the "friends" we could find and put them back into the Box 0' Animals. I took my little buddy back to his grateful parents and went home for the day.

     When the school year began a few days later, I saw my friend, the teachers' son, frequently. I was substituting most days for teachers either in his room or in one of the preschool rooms that open onto the same play yard.
      One day I casually asked him, "Hey, how's our friend the fish?" Without speaking he disappeared at a run toward the room where the plastic animals were and returned a minute later with "our friend the fish" upon his outstretched palm to show me that it was indeed doing fine.
      That started us on one of those ongoing games that can be so much fun. Such running games are especially valuable with children you don't see every day, which was my lot with this boy after awhile. The game becomes a strand of relationship, helping to keep continuity going.
      When I'd see this little guy in the yard, I'd pick up a bucket and smiling, say to him, "Hey, look, our friend the bucket!" He'd get the idea, take off the hat he was wearing and say, "our friend the hat!"
     We began naming any nearby object to one another as a "friend" Every time we'd see one another, which was sometimes several times a day, we'd come up with new examples. My buddy might mention "our friend the sand" or "our friend the lunchbox." I'd respond with "our friend the t-rex" ( a plastic dinosaur), or even, trying to match his frequent esotericism, "our friend the air" I derived great pleasure from verbalizing the universe we were living in as user-friendly, the way St. Francis had with his "Brother Sun, Sister Moon".
     After three months of such bright play, our game began to lose its spark. Another boy had once asked me to play "Little Bunny Fru-Fru" on the harmonica ten times every time I saw him. That routine had started to wind down after awhile, and this one did too now. I guess my young partner had had enough, too, or we'd still be at it.

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