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


t 1 pm a bell rings on the preschool play yard. With all the whooping and cheering that follows, you'd think you were witnessing some major planetary celebration. In fact, the bell merely signals Napper and Rester Time, and surprisingly sophisticated juvenile senses of humor, using extreme exaggeration for sheer dramatic effect, are responsible for the din.
      Room 5, a double-sized room, overflows with cots, each one customized with an unique combination of blankets, pillows, sheets, quilts, sleeping bags, dolls, stuffed animals, "binkies", and here and there, a bottle, all provided by a child's loving family. These accoutrements combine to create an atmosphere as quieting as it is aesthetic.
      The idea is for each child to feel safe, secure, and among friends: Tinker Bell, Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh, or the whole family might be emblazoned on a blanket. A favorite doll or stuffed animal lies right beside the pillow, convenient for hugging. One little girl's cot has so many stuffed friends, one wonders where she herself is going to fit!
      At first, commotion prevails in the room. Children sit on their beds and remove their shoes or wait till a teacher who can help them happens by. Some go to get a last-minute glass of water or use the potty. Settling down happens slowly.
      Within five or ten minutes, everyone is in place. It's then that the Battle begins: for while many, mostly younger, children drift right off, grateful for rest after a strenuous morning, there remain a cohort of boys and girls who would rather do anything than slumber through an hour and a half of daylight! These youngsters fight sleep with all the considerable power at their disposal.
      Some of the habitually resistant children have been strategically placed in corners, along the walls, or even, in one or two cases, behind pieces of furniture. Eager little nappers can't see them there and so they don't influence the general populace to join them in wakefulness.
      As most children fall asleep, binky or bottle in mouth, animal or, in one case, a "silky", a favorite piece of cloth, tightly held, some of our reluctant nappers stand on their cots and bounce. Others begin a never-ending process of fluffing their sheets and blankets in the air to straighten them.
      One boy likes to disappear completely inside his bright red sleeping bag and zip it from the inside. Then he slithers and squirms, an amorphous, non-human-looking shape. Sometimes he wriggles, horizontal and worm-like or spilling off the cot. Occasionally stands up like someone-or-thing without a head.
      Because such a circus will distract other children, this boy often draws a teacher to him. If the four or five nap room teachers are already occupied, however, our living sleeping bag will go on twisting and rolling till someone finally does get free, or until the boy tires of the spectacle and simply goes limp inside his bag.
      The teachers are likely to already be busy. In one corner, separated from the rest of the room by an overturned, empty bookshelf, is the legendary Hal Brown. This audacious 3 year-old has been known to flaunt himself by singing "Jingle Bells" while jumping high enough on his cot for everyone in the room to see!
     Other teachers are busy with very small children who are still getting acclimated to school and need a companion to feel secure enough to let go into slumber. The arsenal of the pro-sleep forces, which might be referred to as "The Sandman Brigade", includes the soft, soothing beddings, a tape of gentle music that's always playing in the background, and our little "army" of four or five teachers affectionately rubbing backs or heads in a gentle, rhythmic way.
      The outcome of the mood in Room 5 hangs in the balance for fifteen or twenty minutes. Gradually, more borderline children succumb to the tiredness they've been resisting. Teachers are freed to plug the leaks that remain in the room's sleep-proofing.
      Even the most resistant child is likely to sooner or later surrender all defenses and succumb to deep slumber in response to an affectionate alternation of rubbing and patting between the shoulder blades. Now and then, though, "benign neglect" is the best policy for a small child needing to assert independence, who may play or sit on a cot until there is simply nothing else to do but give in to a nap.
      By the time forty-five minutes have passed, the room is like a nursery. One or two children may still lie quietly awake, alone or with a teacher trying to help them relax. After an hour, they are allowed to read or to be escorted to the Rester room where there are stories and play. On a good day, everyone is fast asleep. Several of the teachers, lying where they had helped their last client, also take advantage of a few minutes rest, which indeed are hard to resist in a room so filled with sleep.
     Then, of course, teachers have to reawaken all the slumbering babes they labored to hard to quiet down. At 2:30, the whole room goes into Reverse! The lights go on, lively, bouncy music replaces the dreamy stuff, and children are called, wooed, and finally, gently shaken, if necessary, back into wakefulness, with lots of hugs, and humor.
      The nap room is a sweet and intimate place. Sitting on a small chair at the end of a day there, I can't help but feel that as long as such innocents as these can rest so surrounded by love, security and safety, there is yet hope for our world.

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