Kindness Gift Shop

I was not on board at first.

I didn’t say that out loud, I kept that to myself. But I was less than enthusiastic. It was tough to get my head around the logistics and the point of the whole thing.

However, it wasn’t my vision and I wasn’t about to squash someone else’s big idea. So I got on board, albeit reluctantly.

The “it” was a gift shop for students to purchase items for someone they love. They paid for the gift using a Kindness Ticket they had earned by doing something nice for others. The store would be stocked with gently used items from staff and community.

We had close to 500 students. That’s a lot of items to collect. A lot of kindness tickets to distribute, a lot gifts to wrap which requires a lot of manpower.

Not my vision, not my idea to squash.

So I asked friends for donations and scoured our home for items that might be suitable. And it started to come together. A former office was converted into a shop and the gifts began to pour in.

Another concern I had was over how the students would feel about choosing a second-hand item instead of something new. Many of our kids live close to the poverty line and I was worried about their dignity. Again, I trusted those who were leading the project and kept my doubts to myself. I started catching my students doing things for others and handed out our Kindness Tickets.

Remember the manpower issue? Not an issue. Retired teachers and university volunteers along with community members manned the store and it was up and running. Any doubt I had that this might not work were swept away when my first student was invited to go shopping. The pride in earning a ticket was overshadowed by the absolute joy they had upon their return to our classroom with a carefully wrapped gift in hand.

Some students announced what they had bought and who it was for while others decided to keep it a secret. The care and thought that went into each purchase was staggering. The supportive excitement they had for each other’s selections was unexpected. They even scouted out possible gifts for their friends to select: “I saw a purse that would be perfect for your grandma!”

The Kindness Gift Shop was a success.

The next year it was decided to do it again. Would we have enough items a second year? Would the novelty have worn off? Would people be willing to volunteer again.

Yes. Donations rolled in. My own parents contributed rolls of wrapping paper along with gift items. The timing of their downsizing move to a condo was ideal. I brought a trunk full of supplies from a town two hours away because I matter to my family and so my school matters to them.

We are a few years in now and this November when I announced to my class that the Kindness Gift Shop would be happening it was met unanimously with cheers followed quickly by outbursts of their plans.

“Last year I got a gift for my mom so this year I’m getting something for my baby sister.”

“I’m getting something for my grandma this year!”

“I can’t wait to get something for pops. I don’t have any money, but he deserves something special.”

New and returning volunteers signed up to help. Wrapping supplies were restocked and new Kindness Tickets were distributed.

As the week of the shop opening approached one student asked me if everyone had earned their ticket yet. I explained that while we have a kind group, a few still needed to be recognized. That’s when my heart grew three sizes.

“Has Josh* received one yet? Because I saw him helping Amina with her math and he deserves one.”

“What about Ryan? He always lets us use his smelly markers.”

“Asia needs her ticket because she invites anyone to join her games at break.”

“I notice that Daniel always looks out for Chris and they have become really good friends.”

“Can we tell you about kids from other classes that have been kind?”

This went on for ten minutes or more. They stopped asking if their classmates had gotten their tickets and just kept sharing all the positive things they noticed about each other. Kids who sometimes went under the radar heard how they were seen by their peers and they sat a bit taller. Students would nod and murmur their agreement about the kind attributes others mentioned. This was a turning point in our classroom community and for me. It’s nice to be noticed by your teacher, but it’s powerful to be recognized by your classmates.

It’s not easy to change or try new things. We are creatures of habit and seek comfort in the predictable. I’m grateful for those who took a risk and thought big. I’m grateful to work with educators who take chances and make a difference. I’m grateful to be part of a community who seeks to care for students they might never meet.

When someone thinks big, support them.

And maybe tell your doubts to just pipe down.

Kindergarten in Review

It has been my privilege to spend another school year in kindergarten. Teaching, that is. As our staff wraps up another busy year we are gathering reflections, quotes, and other magical moments that have made these past nine months memorable. I was digging through old tweets and posts and was struck by the ridiculous, hilarious and disgusting things that happen on any given day in kindergarten.

Obviously, I had to share.

Kindergarten Convos

Kindie: “Is this ‘O Canada’?”
Me: “No, Elton John.”

Me: “Did you flush?”
Kindie: “No, you gotta see it.”

Kindie: “My letter jar is at home.”
Me: “Oh, will you fill it with your mom and bring it back?”
Kindie: “No, she won’t fit inside.”

Me: “Friends, we don’t put play-doh in our ear.”
Kindie: “It’s not play-doh, it’s paper.”

Me: “I like your shirt – do you know where you bought it?”
Kindie: “Where?”
Me: “I’m asking you.”
Kindie: “Yup.”

Kindie: “Guess what!”
Me: “What?”
Kindie: “Sometimes my dad takes his phone with him into the bathroom.”

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“J is for Happy Pumpkin!”

In the computer lab…
Me: “Would you like to go to starfall or tvokids?”
Kindie: “Batman.”

Me: “Stop pushing.”
Kindie: “You look beautiful.”
Me: “Carry on.”

Kindie: “Why is he wearing lipstick?”
Teacher: “He’s not, he licked the metal window ledge. It’s blood.”

Me: “What do you notice about the parachute?”
Kindie:”My headband is purple.”

Me: “I smell something pretty stinky in here.”
Kindie: “Maybe someone was smoking.”

Me: “No one is more important just because they get to the library first.”
Kindie: “Except Jesus.”
Me: “Alright. Except Jesus.”

Kindie: “My back has these sharp things.”
Me: “Yes, that’s your spine.”

Kindie: “It smells good in here.”
Me: “It must be me.”
Kindie: “No.”

Me: “Did you just eat a really red snack?”
Kindie: “No.”
Me: “Did you get some new red lipstick?”
(pause)
(longer pause)
Kindie: “Yes.”

Kindie: “We made a pretend TV at the blocks and she keeps turning it off!”
Me: “Couldn’t you just pretend it’s still on?”

Me: “Why do you think there is a Skyjack at school today?”
Kindie: “We don’t hit… or kick.”

Kindie: “He spit at me”
Me: “What happened right before that?”
Kindie: “I came and told you about it.”
(Lesson on sequencing of events followed)

Me (during story): “What do you think Rabbit is planning?”
Kindie: “My toes keep growing bigger.”

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“It’s a snail family!”

Me: “Friends, what special day is Sunday?”
Kindie 1: “Swimming lessons!”
Kindie 2: “No school!”
Kindie 3: “Church!”
Kindie 4: “Thanksmothers Day!”

Teacher: “What rhymes with cat?”
Kindie: “I know! Shat!”

(Recruited the help of a classmate to help communicate with a new kindie)
Me: “How do you say ‘cow’ in Arabic?”
Student: “Cow in Arabic.”

(During a lesson on Canadian coins)
Me: “Who is that person whose face is on every coin?”
Kindie: “Jesus.”

 

Life Lessons From The Young

“Sometimes I miss my mom but then I just suck it up. Like a buttercup.”

“If you get flushed down a toilet you won’t come out.”

“I took ten dollars from my brother, but it’s okay because I said ‘April Fools!'”

“Maybe those tadpoles are just sleeping…or having a Code Red.”

“Yeah, God wears underwear.”

“You can live without a head, my dad said so.”

“I eat Ontarios for breakfast.”

Yes, I Said That

“You’re either are an elf OR Rudolph, but not both. Make a choice.”

“Put your book in your backpack, then I’ll watch you whip and nae nae.”

You’re still the line leader even if you don’t say it ten times.”

“We glue paper, not friends.”

“We don’t use the salad tongs on our friend’s eyeball.”

“There’s no teeth involved in kissing.”

“Maybe you could have warned me you had licked your necklace before you asked for help putting it on.”

How about next time you let that fart cloud dissipate a bit before calling me over for help?”

“Whose kitten and hamburger picture is this?”

“Putting marbles on your eyeballs is not a learning centre.”

“Help tidy up, it’s what dead Fishy would want.”

________

Is Kindergarten the most magical place on earth? Possibly. It has its ups and downs and can leave you exhausted. But only in kindergarten will a five-year-old slide you a note and tell you it says “I am leaving early today for a meeting with my investors.”

 

 

 

 

Sparkly Mittens

“My hands are cold,” my young friend informed me. This little student had not dressed for the cold snap we were experiencing and her hands were raw and stiff from the freezing temperatures. The mittens she had been wearing were thin and soaked through from playing in the snow.

After double-checking for spare mittens in her backpack and the bin in the hall where extras are stored, we headed to my stash. Friends had kindly donated new hats and mittens for our school community. There was one pair of mittens left after winter had depleted my supplies.

“Well, look at that!” I told her, “purple mittens that are just your size and they even match your boots. Will you wear these if I give them to you?” She quietly nodded and her eyes lit up.

“I don’t have sparkly mitts,” she told me. She watched as I unhooked the pair and then began to snip off the tags. “Why are you doing that? Why do they have those?” she asked.

“These are brand new so I need to take the tags off from the store.”

Again, those big brown eyes looked up at me and she said with surprise, “Why would you have mittens for me?”

Why do we have mittens? For the same reasons we have extra snow pants, boots, shoes, jackets, and underwear. We have them because we know that life is not always easy or fair or simple. Finances are tight, families are stressed, jobs are hard to find. Sometimes grown-ups are dealing with their own messes and challenges. They are trying their best, but even the small things in life are too much some days.

Why do we have mittens? The same reasons we have a snack program to make sure hungry kids are fed and ready to learn. Because you should not need to worry about having enough food, enough warm clothes, or boots that do not leak. You are kids.

She is too little to understand the impact her question had on me or the many layers my answer contained.

“I have mittens because I care about my kindergarten friends,” I told her. And with that she shrugged and toddled back outside to play. Ready to be carefree again and play with her classmates. And eat snow, of course, because after all, she’s just a kid. That’s what kids should do.

Why do we have mittens? Because you matter, little friend. Everyone matters. 

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If a Kindie Sees an Ambulance

Inspired by real life events (everyone is fine) and the beloved series of books featuring animals with insatiable and irrational desires for things like donuts, pancakes, and muffins, I decided to try my hand as an author of children’s books. Here’s the working draft of my first manuscript. I might turn it into a play, I haven’t decided yet.

———————images

If a kindergartener sees an ambulance in the school parking lot, they will immediately jump to the most extreme scenario.

Kindie (spotting an amubulance through the classroom window). “Someone is dead.”

Me. No one died.

Second Kindie. Someone is DEAD?!

Me. No one is dead.

Third and Fourth Kindie (as they rush to the window). Who died?

Me. No one is dead. They are here to help a student and give them medicine.

First Kindie: Well, SOME people are dead.

Me. (exasperated look)

First Kindie (whispering, head down). Well, they ARE.

Me (more forcefully). The ambulance is hear because teachers did the right thing and called for help to make sure everyone is okay. It’ll be fine. Oh, look! See? There’s the student sitting up, they’re going to be fine. Firefighters, police, and ambulance drivers are our friends. It’s fine, but if you feel anxious or have some questions we can chat. BUT EVERYTHING IS FINE.

Second Kindie. One time I had to get stitches at the hospital. I was bleeding.

Third Kindie. Is the playdoh open?

Second Kindie. Joey picked his nose. I SAW him.

Fourth Kindie. So, who died?

(Scene)

What Are you Doing?

Ah, teaching kindergarten children. Is it rewarding? Yes. Fun? Absolutely. Challenging? At times, yes. Energizing? You betcha. Draining? For sure. Worth it? Without a doubt.

Do you ever wonder what it’s like to work with small children every day? Here you go.

___________________________

Student (to me as I stamp letters with a classmate). What are you doing?

Me (thinking it is pretty obvious). What am I doing?

Student (smiling). What are you doing?

Me. What am I doing?

S. What are you doing?

M. What am I doing?

S (giggling). What are you doing?

M. What is in my hand?

S. What is in your hand?

M. What do you think I am doing?

S. What are you doing?

M (gesturing directly at the stamps and paper and classmate). What does it look like I am doing?

S. What are you doing?

M (weeping quietly). Stamping. His. Name. With. This. Stamp. In. My Hand.

S. Hahaha. What are you doing?

M. Go find a centre, honey.

S. Bye.

photo 2

Strep Breath and Juicy Talker

“I should just make the doctor’s appointment now,” I thought right after the spittle landed on my lip.

But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.

For the past fourteen months I had been home full time to take care of various combinations of our four boys. It was glorious. And illness-free. Sure, the boys had some colds, stomach viruses, and even a incredibly strange reaction to the flu which caused our third born to be immobile for a few days. BUT I WAS FINE. No sick days for me. Feeling groovy.

Fourteen wonderful, healthy months.

Then the “incident” happened.

My first day back to teaching after my hiatus, I spent time with some young friends in a small group. I remember it like it was only three days ago. We were sitting down together having a picnic-style lunch. The conversation was flowing, they were adorable, I was thoroughly enjoying myself.

“Mrs. Moister, could you open my juice box?” asked a little cherub. But it was more like “Missish Moisssster, could you open my juish boksh?” because she had her mouth half-full of sandwich. It was white bread and balogna, but I digress.

It was on the “Moister” and “boksh” that this young juicy talker let the spit fly. I could see it coming, but it was too late. It landed on my face, and definitely on my mouth. There was no where to go.

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“I am absolutely getting sick and will need antibiotics, it’s only a matter of time. I should just make the doctor’s appointment now,” I whispered to myself as I went to wash my hands. Hand washing was required because another kindie friend asked me to open his cheese string after swearing he didn’t try to open it with his teeth. He lied.

 A day passed and the incident slipped my mind. Until 5:30 in the morning a mere two days later when I woke to discover I had small rocks that had been lit on fire residing at the back of my throat.

Juicy Talker.

How do I know for certain it was JT? She had Strep Breath. It’s a thing and I can identify in less that two whiffs.

THE THIRD DAY OF SCHOOL. HOW COULD THIS BE HAPPENING?

After some deliberation, I called it in and booked a supply teacher. It hurt to do that so early on in the school year, but not as much as my throat of flames.

Thankfully, the doctor’s office got me in quickly. I love my doctor, but that guy laughed at me. HE LAUGHED. And he made some cracks about how we should be given facemasks, which isn’t as extreme as it sounds. He also told me that being home for a year made me soft, but he wrote the prescription. He’s my people.

One year ago I was making my second trip to Target, just because I could. Today I’m dodging walking petri dishes and taking drugs. Let’s reflect on the change of my status for a moment. It’s okay if you want to weep a bit, I understand. It’s horrifying. I’d shout about the injustice of first-week illness, but I can’t because my throat is on fire.

I love my job, but kindergarteners are gross. Cute, but gross.

And so the new year begins…

____________

Want to contribute to my hazmat suit fund? Details to follow.

It’s Just Preschool

Preschool graduations. I admit, I have always thought they were a bit ridiculous.

It’s just preschool. They are starting out their school lives. How can one graduate when one is just beginning?

They come in children sizes, but should they?
They come in children sizes, but should they?

It’s just preschool. Why do we need to have ceremonies for this? Not everything has to be a big deal.

It is just preschool. They basically played all year.

What was the curriculum? Painting, gluing, singing, counting.

They just learned to share, listen, take turns, develop fine motor skills.

They only learned how to make friends, keep friends, speak clearly, open their own snacks. Print their name. Be away from mom and dad.

Why are we celebrating this past year? It’s just preschool after all.

Just preschool, where their teachers invested in their young lives as they ate their playdoh cookies. It was one or two mornings per week where they were stretched to try new things and think outside of their own experiences. Sitting at the carpet taught them mutual respect and how to follow a new routine. Planting bean seeds in paper towels and baggies fostered wonder and a sense of nurturing.

Maybe graduations aren’t necessary, but big things happen throughout our lives and they need to be marked. I think we’ve gotten carried away with graduations in particular (preschool, kindergarten, grade six, grade 8, grade 12, need I go on?) but reflecting on a year of growth and learning? That matters.

Pausing to say good-bye to a season of education or a milestone of life, let’s keep doing that. Minus the formal wear.

Even if it’s just preschool.

(Thank you, teachers of all grade levels. What you do matters and we are grateful).