It has been four weeks since I began volunteering at my school’s From 3 to 3 program. I have managed to settle in quite easily thanks to the wonderful group of kids in my class. However, I did have a bit of a rough start. The first day I walked into the classroom the teacher was on her way out because an emergency. Her daughter had chickenpox! Before she left she said, “Here is a class list. Here are two books. Kids, Mr. Sampat, Mr. S., is going to take some of you to the library to read. Good luck!” And, she was gone.
So, there I was, 6ft1 with a beard as thick as my index finger, having virtually no experience around children, surrounded by kids none-taller than my hips. A room of upturned faces bearing quiet smiles that quickly turned away once they were seen. At the beginning the morning’s readings or sentence forming games, from their individually labelled Ziploc bags, I decided to try crouching to talk to the closest group of three kids. I asked, “Would you like to go the library to read?” One of the kids nodded, trying to steal glances at the books in my hand (The Very Busy Spider and Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!). Could you show me where the library is? And so we went. Three brightly clad kids with shoes that lit up when they walked, tentatively, but with their destination in mind. Constantly checking to see that I was following, thumb in the mouth of one, one looking like he just saw a ghost, eyes wide open, mouth like an ‘O’, and one with a smile that could light up a room.
I got through the entire class. The stories were enjoyed by most. That first day I learned quite a bit. First, some kids were terribly distracted around certain others. Incessant giggles, running away from the table, tossing themselves into other chairs and refusing to move. I made the mistake of mixing some seniors with juniors. By week three I sorted out who could go with who by watching how they interacted with each other in the classroom during playtime, snack-time and music. Also, sitting on the same level as the kids really helps. Closer to the ground they are, the more comfortable they feel. So, I avoid adult size chairs and kneel with them at a table, or we sit in a circle on the carpet. Second, lots of hand movements, sound effects and different voices (high and low) could do a world of wonders for keeping the kids focused on the story I was reading. Plus, they were less likely to squirm around or wander off searching for whatever treasures the library had to offer. It takes at least two or three readings to figure out how to tell a story, so I always switch up the order of who goes first one week and the next and so forth. Then, everyone gets the benefit of a good story sometime.
Third, though you might have two books (unless they’re really short) it’s best to give the kids a choice and read only one. It helps them stay engaged. If they want to turn the pages, I let them go ahead. There’s one girl who always wants to turn the page, and she dictates an order so everybody else in the group gets a turn too. If I forget and turn it myself out of order, she frowns a little the makes me turn back, or I never hear the end of how I unfair it was that I skipped so-and-so’s turn. Fourth, and I’ll make this my final point, if I’m enthusiastic and happy, the kids are enthusiastic and happy. They have fun. They may ramble and make some crazy answers to the questions, but they always leave wanting to hear more.
Everyday I come in, now that they know me, they smile and say hello or wave. They tell me about their weekends, what they did last week. They ask to go first to the library. They ask me to come back in the afternoon or tomorrow or every day. When I tell them I have to go to school, they giggle and say that I don’t need to. I’m too old. That they want to go to university too. They just seem so caught up in the fun of everything that I end up getting caught alongside them. The hours fly by and I’m kind of excited to figure out how I’m going to make it better next week. I have so much more experiences to write about, but I’ve written quite a bit already. The atmosphere of sheer happiness that encompasses my Tuesday mornings makes this an immensely enjoyable experience. By the time I leave for class, trudging in my winter gear and overly heavy backpack to Victoria Park station, I have no worries about anything. Last week, I was not even bitter about the damn cold. Just glad to be doing this.
Written by Aneel Sampat