Friday, September 27, 2013

Making Americans

I spent a morning with 19 five and six year olds this week. As always, it was impossible to be sad. I was surrounded by little ones who couldn't get enough of me, and it was easy to return the favor.

It was a surprisingly well-behaved crew, sitting cross-legged on the rug in front of Miss Levine. These are the English language learners who speak another language at home but who are fairly fluent in English. It has a lot to do with the families' involvement and the value placed on education at home, the teacher opines as she places the iPads and headphones at one of the learning centers. 

iPads and headphones? Miss Levine researched their use, a grant paid for them, and the kids are part of the digital age, moving seamlessly from iPad math games through  cutting out A's and a's and gluing them to a worksheet to writing in their journals to listening and spelling on the desktops-and-headphones beneath the windows. They didn't need any help beyond squeezing the expanders to contract to fit their heads; their small hands were otherwise quite capable. 
My favorite part of Learning Centers is lying on the rug, Beanie Baby in hand, reading aloud. They are learning about seeds and flowers, and so Ruth Kraus's classic tale of hope and confidence was presented proudly for my perusal. The little boy is so certain that it will grow, despite hearing NO at every turn. I kept the pedantic explication to myself, and shared the kids' delight when they turned the giant, poster sized, page and saw The Carrot Plant.

There were other huge books, with sunflowers and peas and soil and seeds. We spent quite a lot of time exploring the alphabet at the beginning of the silly poetry book, thinking of animals of our own that were w's or l's or b's. We were not above acting them out.

There's a new friend in the classroom, just off the boat or the plane or the ship from a distant land, unsure about exactly what to do. He sat with his arms folded around himself, looking down at some haven only he saw, there in his lap. His nods were imperceptible, his shoulders bearing the weight of the world. But his brown crayon kept talking to him, wondering what other details he might put in his journal... and the fact that I was answering his crayon seemed to amuse him.

I didn't know why he was smiling. Was there something amiss?  Didn't everyone talk to their crayons?

Soon the four boys at the four desks were conversing with Crayolas, distinguishing between B's and R's, answering one another's questions, and, for a moment, he was a part of the whole. 

One of his kindergarten classmates writes in complete sentences. How did she learn to read so well? "In my country, big kids help little kids.  My sister is big. She is 11. She taught me."  Just as Miss Levine says, it takes a whole family to raise a good learner. 

This is the kind of school my mother attended. Immigrant parents, working harder and longer to put food on the table and clothes on their backs, often not speaking English, with no experience riding buses or waiting at traffic lights or joining the PTO. It's up to the kids to bring America home with them.

Camping was the theme of the poster board at the front of the room. I'm not sure the Somali or Afghan students in the room have a lot of experience with camping, just as I know I didn't when Dick and Jane and Spot went camping when I was in 1st grade. But Americans go camping, and many of the journal entries were about camping trips the children ... fantasized?... believed they'd taken?... and does it matter, anyway? 

They were expanding their brains, thinking about unfamiliar things. Miss Levine talked about fiction and make-believe and gave great credence to that which comes from the imagination. Reality is vastly overrated, I thought to myself, and then I disagreed... immediately... because I had a little one's hand on mine, inviting me to see what she'd written.

It's impossible to be sad when surrounded by 5 and 6 year olds.  My reality is pretty good right now.


  1. I sat in my four year-old's room yesterday and read several books on the circle time rug. I was so thrilled when eight kids joined me. My four year-old couldn't have been bothered. I was so impressed with how well they knew their ABCs and the stories I was reading. I did this before work and it cheered me up immensely. It's so important to take time for children. I am going to see if I can get my 11 year-old to help my four year-old with his ABCs. Although, I think my eight year-old would be better suited for it. She's my avid learner. My 11 year-old is more of my artistic child.

    Hav a wonderful weekend.

    Megan xxx

  2. You were a valuable asset to those children and that classroom. Seems like you were repaid handsomely.


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