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





1. Lunch in Preschool

     You'd have to have five or six children of your own, or to have hosted birthday parties for very young children by yourself, to have an idea of preschool lunch. Eight arms and two or three mouths would come in mighty handy!
      Preschoolers don't understand that when several children need something at the same time, all the teacher can do is fill these needs one by one. The chorus of "Open this!" and the sea of outstretched hands holding containers of yogurt, ziplock bags, string cheese, and juice packages, and "lunchable" boxes can be daunting.
     Amid the chaos, one is also trying to teach children magic words of good manners. "Can you say 'Please open this?' " I ask a little boy. "Peese!" he responds.
      That's fine for a two year-old. I try to ask the older boys and girls to use a complete sentence like, "Will you please open my yogurt?" a vebal pattern I think more likely to create a habit. And indeed, I have seen such politeness start to become habitual.
      All the chaos notwithstanding, it's kind of exhilarating to feel so needed. Little by little, a previously helpless child starts to master the arcane secrets of opening a ziplock bag. Then, miracle of miracles, she even learns to access a plastic-wrapped straw and plunging it into the top of a juice box. When this happens I feel that combination of happy awe and wistful nostalgia that anyone attached to a child feels as the little one grows.

* * * *

      During morning play time, while I'm outside, one of our in-room teachers places each child's lunchbox at one of four round tables. The placement is supposed to be random, usually seating four or five children at each table. Sometimes children surreptitiously move their lunchboxes, though. When lunch time comes, we occasionally gasp in surprise to see ten lunchboxes crowding a single table!
      We come in after the bell rings and have "circle" for about ten minutes, followed by a Grace song. Then, 4 or 5 at a time, children join in playing a simple game, after which they're dismissed to go and wash their hands.
      As hand-washing proceeds, I crane my neck to see who "the luck of the draw" has brought to my table today. That bare fact will determine our lunchtime conversation.
      One day not far into the school year, I looked around to see that none of the 5 children at my table was much more than two. I spent a frantic 5 minutes opening every object on the table. Then, opening and starting to eat my own lunch, I tried several conversational gambits, beginning with the ever-popular "animal game".
      For all the response that brought, I might have been addressing a group of recent immigrants who spoke no English. Suddenly I realized the turth. These children could scarcely talk!
      I searched my mind for some simple, unifying subject. The only thing that came to mind was the sentence,  "Anybody see "Teletubbies" yesterday?"  Feeling like Johnny Carson after he'd given up on his opening monologue and started tap-dancing, I tried it. My question brought smiles of recognition and a few murmured affirmatives.
      "Can you name all the teletubbies?" I asked, and we were off. It doesn't take that much conversation to get through lunch.

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