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





2. The Animal Game

      The "animal game" has been a lunchtime favorite for as long as I've been teaching. Once we've opened our food containers—all except for "treats", which are for later—one of the children will usually say, "Let's play the animal game!" (Sometimes it sounds more like "ammal game", but I get the idea.)
      "OK," I say, "Think of an animal."
      "No, you think of one!" the child will say, and I oblige her. "I'm thinking of a big animal that lives in the water and goes..." At this point I make a mighty crashing sound with my two arms, one coming down and the other coming up, meeting like a pair of enormous jaws.
      "A alligator!" says an excited child. "How did you know?" I ask in mock surprise, as I've started with the same animal every day all year.
      "I guessed it!" the gleeful child replies.
      "Wonderful!" I say. "Now you think of an animal!"
      "A duck!" says the child.
      That's the problem with the animal game. It requires some sophisticated cognitive skills that are way beyond a two year-old's grasp. I might even say, "No, you think of an animal and don't tell us what it is! Tell us something about the animal, and then we'll try to guess what it is. OK, go ahead."
      "A lion," says the child.
      Some of the older children, of course, have mastered the game, but since our class this year consists of eighteen two year-olds, five 3 year-olds, and a 4 year-old, there are almost always several younger boys and girls at my table.
    Last year a boy named Mel would do the same, adorable routine every day when it was his turn at the animal game. He'd seem to look deeply into his mind and then in a dreamy way he'd say, very slowly, "I'm thinkin' of a big fishy with two eyes and a long tail and stripes."
      You could see the picture form in his mind as he spoke. He was so cute I found his description irresistable and would sometimes ask him for "command performances".
      Though it's perfectly understandable, I'm a little ashamed to say my desire to get Mel to display his cuteness got the best of me. I'd see him and immediately say, "Did you think of a big fishy yet today?" I think once or twice I may even have co-opted his fishy description and used it when it was my turn at lunch.
      All this culminated in his saying at our table one day, "Mr. Max, when I go home today, then I'm gonna think of a big fishy with two eyes and a long tail and stripes!" I'd made him self-conscious and destroyed the spontaneity of his adorable response. I never heard it again.

     This same Mel also had a delightful game regarding his treat, which of course children occasionally try to devour before touching anything so mundane as a sandwich. As we talked and ate, I'd see him sneakily reaching out toward his cookies in their waiting place near the center of the table, moving them a little at a time closer to a central position near him. I'd intercept him in one of these movements. "What are you do-ing, Mel?" I'd mock an exaggerated "caught in the act" voice.
      "I just want to smell it!" his high-pitched voice would pipe up..
      "One smell," I'd say.
      A little later I'd see him moving it again.
      "I just want…"
      "No," I'd say, interrupting. "After you finish your lunch."
      But the interaction didn't end there. Mel knew there was a cat-and-mouse game going on and he enjoyed it as much as I did. We made this repartee into a little script that we'd frequently re-play..
      Then one day, when I'd finished lunch, I announced to the children at the table, "I'm going to have my treat now."
      "No!" Mel answered in a loud, sharp voice from across the table.
      Amazingly, this 3 year-old was cleverly reversing our roles.
      "But I just want to…"
      "No!" he interrupted. And on and on.

     Lately in the "animal game", we have a girl who says a bunny makes a kind of "Ehh!" sound, a loud, sharp, bazooka-like noise. When it's her turn she says, "I'm thinking of an animal that goes "Ehh!".
      "A bunny!" everyone shouts together, and we all have a good laugh.

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