Shelter report: Elephants Eating starts with ABCDE


Yesterday, every child in the preschool actually was asleep during naptime. This is a rare event, especially for a class that has three very active boys and one girl who likes to test boundaries. My friend Greg who works Thursday mornings is a master at calming them down.

At one point I was rubbing a boy’s back to help help relax. He whispered to me over and over: can you something something rub my back. Finally I got it. He wanted me to ask Greg to rub his back.

These kids are all trying, but they respond to praise and correction individually. Some slowly, some erratically, some as if they knew the right answers before they got here.

Normally disruptive throughout naptime, Darnell (all kid names changed) was late to sleep and early to rise, but when he got up he quietly helped the teachers mixing tempera paint and cleaned the sink where we washed off the bottles.

Next, I read some books of his choosing. We named the tools in one book. Some he knew, others he would ask me to whisper the names so he could get them. Then we turned to an alphabet book that presented pictures of creatures in two-word phrases like Elephants Eating.

Darnell can recite his ABCs but can’t seem to retrieve an individual letter by simply looking at its shape. When I’d ask him to name a letter, he’d run through the alphabet from the start while looking at a string of cut-out letters on the wall. He almost always got the correct letter using this method. But after finding the right letter, when he repeated the pair of words he’d reverse them, saying Kangaroo is for K.

The final book was a minor work in the Dr. Suess canon, There’s a Wocket in My Pocket, which my brain wants to call up as There’s a Lorax in My Thorax.

Already in my short time back, I feel like I’ve read it more than I want to. But for Darnell, I took another stab at it, asking him to help me. He immediately got the concept of rhyming the made-up creature’s name with the concrete object. I’d read There’s a Nupboard in my… and he’d immediately respond with cupboard.

Only a few old-fashioned words like sofa foiled him.

He went off to check out the activity table and Darius plopped on the couch next to me. Earlier, Darius had hovered nearby and chimed in with the letter as Darnell struggled to name it. Reading time can be very territorial, but Darnell ignored him and worked to the letters in his own way.

Darius wanted to read Wocket, too. So, flush with my innovation of having the child complete the rhymes, I started in again. Darius, so facile with the alphabet, couldn’t get the rhymes at all. Meanwhile, Darnell shouted out the words from across the room without benefit of seeing the pictures.

Two boys in one small classroom with different talents and learning obstacles. Why should we be surprised when the one-size-fits-all drill and test model leaves some children in the chalk dust?

When Darnell’s parents picked him up after school, he told them I was good today. I wanted to add some praise about how he’d helped and was good during his nap, but I’ve learned the teachers have a more complete perspective, so I held my tongue.

Before I’d arrived, he’d earned a note to his parents because he’d grabbed a girl around the throat during a dispute over a toy. Both mother and father were there and they reinforced immediately that he was not ever to choke anyone for any reason.

That was the most important lesson for the day, so I held back saying anything to dilute it. But he was good today, too, and we all hope he will keep getting better.