This week I started my newest part-time job: working as a coordinator/assistant for an elementary after-school program. Each day I corral the fifty to sixty kids in the cafeteria and check them in to their various activities (of which they have some pretty sweet ones, like Legos and Fun with Clay and something called “Pirate Island.”) I make sure all the kids get to their activity classrooms and that no one is missing. Then I feed the kids their meds (as needed) and roam around to see that things are going smoothly. At the end of the day, I make sure everyone get picked up by the appropriate parents.
It’s a pretty easy job, although I do sometimes have to deal with crying/screaming/misbehaving kids. This week, because it’s the first week of the program, there have definitely been some students acting out because they are nervous about doing something new and different.
As I dealt with these youngsters, I thought about how adults act when faced with a new situation in which they’re not sure what to expect. In a way, it’s not all that different than the way first graders behave.
HOW DO YOU REACT TO A NEW SITUATION?
-By getting suspicious.
On Tuesday, I had a second grader who was supposed to be taking Yoga. “Well, where is it exactly?” he asked. The library, I told him. “Why are those kids in here, then?” I told him they were in Aladdin the Musical (yes that is one of the activities), which meets in the cafeteria, and I offered to walk him to the library.
“Well, where should I put my backpack?” His eyes slid back and forth as if thieves were hiding behind the trash cnas, waiting to steal his backpack while he was distracted in downward-facing dog.
“You can bring your backpack with you to the library,” I said.
We went to the library and walked in. The class had already started, and the kids were lying on their mats with the florescent lights out overhead.
“I don’t think so,” the boy said, shaking his head. He started backing out of the library.
“What’s wrong? You get to lie on a mat and roll around. It looks like fun.”
He gave me a suspicious look and shook his head emphatically. “No. I don’t think so.”
I finally convinced him to go inside, but for the first half an hour he would only watch as the other students did yoga. Finally, when he decided it was safe, he laid down and joined them.
-By getting nervous and emotional.
Also on Tuesday, a red-faced Kindergartener came up to me. “I’m in Aladdin the Musical,” she whispered. “But I’m…” Her bottom lip started to tremble and her eyes filled with tears. “But I’m afraid!” The tears spilled over. I tried to reason with her, but her crying increased to a nearly-hysterical level, peppered with whimpers of “I want my Daddy.”
“I’m sure she’ll calm down,” the teacher of Aladdin the Musical told me, but every time I checked back in, she was sitting in the corner, sobbing. She pretty much sobbed for the entire hour, until her Father arrived. Then, magically, she transformed into a smiling happy kid, who skipped down the hallway and out of the school.
-By getting angry and belligerent
Yesterday I had a student who refused to go to Fun with Clay. “Go on in,” I told him. “You’re going to like it.”
“No!” he said. He started running down the hall.
I called his name. “What’s the problem?”
“I don’t want to.”
“Please go into your classroom. Your teacher is waiting for you.”
Finally, he began shuffle-stepping down the hall towards the art room, moving at the slowest pace humanly possible. I had to restrain myself from marching over, picking up all forty pounds of him, and tossing him into the art room. My god, who doesn’t want to go have fun with clay?
Yesterday two students decided to hide in the office instead of showing up for Tennis. When I found them, they both tried to act innocent, but sly smiles kept sneaking onto their faces. “Did you guys know you had Tennis today?”
“Yes,” one of them said.
“No,” the other said.
“I mean, I did, but I forgot,” the first one amended, with a glance at his partner in crime.
“Well, let’s go,” I said, and I marched them down the hall. “You’ll remember next time.”
-By running towards it with excitement
There is one student who is in an after-school activity every day, and every day he runs up to me and announces his name proudly. “I’m in Fall into Fun!” he’ll say, his voice brimming with excitement. (I’m not altogether clear what the “Fall into Fun” activity is, but on Tuesday they made gnomes out of sticks and felt.)
Once I check him off, this delightful child will throw himself in the direction of his group, a huge smile across his face. “I can’t wait!” he’ll say. “This is gonna be so fun!”
Oh, if only this were the way we all approached new situations… Fall into fun.