September is more than half-way over. I am beginning to settle in to my school routine: getting up early, working long days organizing student support, and coming home exhausted only to organize some more. It sounds tedious and parts of my job are very routinized, but then there is the wonder that sneaks in every day. The wonder from young children engaging with their world. That I would not trade to witness for all the money the in world – honestly. Wonder is what sustains me, what pushes me through, what is on the other side of the routines and everyday drudgery.
I realized that I have been either going to school or teaching in a school for sixty-two years, more than half a century, most of my life! That is indeed a long time, and I know when the time comes for me to stop doing school, it will be a hard transition. I absolutely love school. I love getting up in the morning, picking out a school outfit, getting to school and seeing friends, going through my way and learning, going home to think about all that has happened in the day, and then doing it all over again until summertime greets me at the end of the school year.
Every day there is a new surprise. Every day, something I didn’t expect happens. This is sometimes positive and sometimes negative, and whichever it is – it is always a learning experience. My days are electric, and that’s how I like them. This is not to say my day are frenetic and haphazard. No, the electricity comes from learning alongside children. I get to see the world again through that childlike lens of wonder and discovery. It fills me with joy, and I am reminded how exciting learning something can be.
One of the best ways I know to spend my time is visiting the JPK classroom, which is home to our three-year-old students. I started my career teaching three-year-old children, so when I enter their classroom, it is like going back in time, and I feel young again. Three-year-olds are the friendliest people I know. They engage you from the minute they meet you and want to be your friend. They like to share information and will tell you without any hesitation what they are doing and how it is going in their world. Even if sometimes they are shy, they are still willing to come up and quietly share what they are thinking. They thrive on connection.
I came to help out on the first day of school. As parents were separating from their children, I noticed one little dark-haired girl, Avery, was having trouble letting her mom go. I sat next to her at the playdough table and engaged her in a conversation long enough for her mom to say good-bye and leave. We continued to play with our pink playdough balls, and I asked Avery if she’d like me to make a snowman. Her face lit up with an exuberant nod. She requested that I make snowman after snowman in various sizes. She giggled and clapped all the way through. I encouraged her to make a snowman, but she just shook her head and said, “You do it.” We played and chatted at the table until it was time for the children to clean-up and for me to get on with the rest of my day.
The following week, I came into the JPK room to find Avery once again sitting with pink playdough. I sat alongside her and said hello. She gave me a big smile and commanded me to make a snowman. I started to make one ball and stopped and said, “You know you can do this.” She shook her head. “Yes, you can,” and I said, “I can show you.” Avery looked up at me, and I showed her how to move her hands to make a ball. She took some playdough and tried to form a ball. She moved her hands back and forth. When she opened her palms, she looked down and frowned. “It’s a snake,” she said. I smiled and explained, “When you move your hand back and forth it turns into a snake. When you move your hands around in a circle like this it becomes a ball.” I made a snake and then a ball. Then I helped Avery to move her hands in a circle. I told her to put the playdough on the table and move one hand on top in a circle. She followed my instructions and slowly removed her hand uncovering a perfect little pink ball. Her face lit up like she had just witnessed magic. Her face was a glow of delight that spread to me and to all the other children at the table. I wished I had taken a photo of her. Her expression was pure joy and happiness. I tucked that image away with me and will keep it with me to use at times when I need a boost.
A few days later, I returned to Avery’s classroom. When I walked in the door, she looked over her shoulder and beckoned me to come see what she was doing. When I saw, my heart over-filled with complete joy. Avery’s playdough mat had a long line of pink balls lined up one after another and stacked one on top of another like a great pink snowball wall. I laughed and said, “Oh, you have been busy! You know how to make snowballs now! You don’t need me.” Avery smiled at me, patted the chair next to her. “Sit down,” she said, “Come play.” Who could argue with that?
I know this seems like such a small thing: a child playing with playdough, learning to make shapes. Some people might say, “This is the way you spend your day? You get paid for this?” And I will proudly declare, “Yes – I spend my day in joy and wonder. I spend my day cultivating play and creativity because it is through these little joy-filled interactions that people learn and grow and invent new ways for our world to be a better place. And so to all of you I say, “Sit down. Come play.”
Avery playing practicing her new skill: PlayDough balls!