~This is the 7th blog entry chronicling my experience as a volunteer at a school for homeless children. I will not identify the children by their given name and in general, I write of composite personalities so that I can best illustrate common experiences among the children without violating their confidentiality and as importantly, the trust of the people who allow me to volunteer at the school.
I don’t normally volunteer on a Monday but since the preschool is short on assistance and seems to have more tiny tots lately, I went in on a day less likely to be fully staffed. I arrived at the school knowing that I would work directly with the preschoolers and their very amazing summer school teacher. Clear about the big picture, I resigned myself to being a silly referee over toys and perhaps, being a story time reader. I fully expected to be hot, and uncomfortable supervising playground antics but I didn’t expect to get the emotional jolt I was given today. Afterall, I have been volunteering for some time now, and well I guess I thought I was used to the reality of it all.
As I walked in, I recognized some of the more regular little faces. Today there were also a set of twin blond-haired beauties, so close in looks, that I couldn’t tell them apart. I looked over at Marvin. He dropped his gaze to the ground. He said not one word. In fact, I have never heard him speak. I thought, “Today, he and I will be friends.”
After morning circle we were instructed that it was JOB TIME. Everyone immediately grabbed a rug and a “job” and found a spot to sit and work. My friend, Monique quickly grabbed a spot at the painting table. She handed me a pick plastic bowl and while she opened up her water color palette said, “Can I have some water please?” And “be careful,” she warned, “don’t spill it.”
Eventually, I got around to sitting next to another 3-year-old, only one with a lot less to say than Monique. In fact, he had nothing to say. He nodded in response to my questions and if I pressed, he averted his eyes and shrugged. As we sat to play, he decided to grab a magnifying glass from the table at the rear of the room. We took turns looking at the variety of rocks and glass marbles set out for a child’s exploration. Marvin quickly separated all of the marbles and glass and focused on showing me the rocks. We moved on to Lincoln Logs where to his delight he learned to stack the pieces expertly and created a building. Of course, he does not know who Lincoln is nor has he an understanding of a log cabin, but he nevertheless maintained his focus until it was time to choose a book to read.
Marvin did not want to read. He did not want to pretend to read. He couldn’t decide on a book and pointed instead to the Lincoln Logs. I spied with my little eye, the Brown Bear Book. AHA! I showed it to him and his eyes lit up. We sat together and I probed, “Do you know this book?” He smiled and nodded excitedly. He opened to the first page. He said, “BBBBBBB BBBBBB Brown BBBBBB BBBBear.” I realized he was very nervous and was stuttering. I literally bit my tongue and let him continue without my help or interruption. He repeated the words.
He got to, ” I sssssee sseee seee a” and he turned the page. “Bird!” he shouted.
I said, “red bird!” and he repeated, “rrrr rrrr red bbbbird!” He continued reading.
I joined him and sing-songed the next page. “Red bird, red bird what do you see? I see a yellow duck looking at me!
He looked at me and repeated the rythmic lyric. And we were off. He stopped stuttering and simply sang the book. Some of his colors were off, but we corrected and moved forward. Marvin read the book three times until we heard the cleanup bells telling us it was time for a short recess.
Like Marvin and his rocks, and Monique and her care not to spill her water for painting, I too had to learn to look carefully and be extra gentle. I recalled the instruction on my first day of orientation when we were told that our role was to help the children be children, that’s all.
Marvin and Monique taught me that they know what they are doing, I just had to learn to let them tell me what they might need me for. Anything above that was outside the scope of my magnifying glass and really more for me than for them; which is not why I volunteer.
A week later, I was greeted by a smiling Marvin. Guess which book he told me he wanted to read?
Thanks for reading.