I am privileged to spend five hours of most every Tuesday and Thursday with a group of 4- and 5-year olds. I teach preschool at our church and every day is different.
This is my favorite age of human beings. Most are young enough that they haven’t perfected the back talking (aka “Sass-Mouth”) but old enough to take care of bathroom stuff by themselves. It’s a time where anything seems possible for them. Their end of the year goals are things like learning the ABC’s (LMNOP or “ellen limo pea”?) and counting to 20 independently (13, 14, 15, 16 are the stumbling blocks that trip up many a preschooler) and tying their shoes…or at least getting them on the correct feet.
About 20 years ago, my first full-time teaching position was 4-year old kindergarten. I had no kids at home so those 15 students were my kids. There was Luke who tried to convince me that 4 ½ was older than 5 because it took longer to say. There was Seth who made it difficult to determine his dominant hand because he would write the first half of his name (S-E) with his left hand and then switch his pencil to write the second half (T-H) with his right. And I could never forget Hunter. He made up a song called “God Killed All the Dinosaurs” and sang it for the class, encouraging us to all jump in for the chorus.
I kept a Mason jar on my desk and I would add marbles to the jar when the class was especially well-behaved. A full jar bought them a popsicle party. After a drought of marble-adding I asked the class, “What kinds of things will get marbles for the jar?”
Hunter answered, “If we pick our nose but don’t eat the boogers?” I didn’t see that one coming.
Those students from my first class are grown now but my current class is still full of surprises, like yesterday when they pretended that the robot lacing cards were cell phones and they walked around our classroom looking for a place to charge them.
My job is still to figure out what in the world they’re talking about.
One day before Thanksgiving, when the weather was warm enough for outside recess, they ran out the door saying, “Let’s play T.J. Maxx!” How does one play a game inspired by a low-cost clothing and home goods retailer? Upon further inspection, I realized (okay…my kids told me) that there’s a TV show called P.J. Masks. Totally different.
In the first few weeks of school, I intervened in an argument about one student’s lunch item, a turkey roll-up sandwich. Here’s the dialogue:
Girl: “It’s not a ballerito!”
Boy: “I know. It’s a burrito.”
Girl: “It’s not a ballerito!!”
Boy: “I know! It’s a burrito!”
It escalated until I could get them understanding the other’s point of view. That’s when I had to say a few sentences I’ve never said before: “You are making her feel sad when you call her sandwich a burrito—which she pronounces ballerito. Please call her sandwich a turkey roll-up or don’t talk about her sandwich at all.” Phew. Everyone stand down. Crisis averted.
Trying to understand kids is often a lot more fun than trying to understand adults. Kids have agendas but they are normally: play more, nap less, eat candy. With adults, it’s usually more difficult to understand what pain or learned habits they’re accessing when they do something unexpected. Unfortunately, kids can also act and speak from a place of great pain but it seems different somehow.
My advice is to try what works for 4-year olds. Sit on the floor right next to them. Pull out a puzzle or read a book or have an imaginary tea party. Get eye-level and try to see things from their perspective, then things might clear up a bit.
Unless it’s Hunter. Then you’re on your own.