In the summer, I usually teach a few community education classes. These are awesome. You can make up whatever it is you want to teach, and kids will sign up to take it. I’ve done a few over the years. Hands on Science, a.k.a. mentos and diet coke! Creative Writing a.k.a. I feel guilty your parents are paying me to sit here and watch you write on your own. Introductory French a.k.a. what can I remember from a class I took over a decade ago.
My favorite has been cooking, and that’s what I did this year. In the past I offered one class for grades 3-6. This year, the program director encouraged me to expand the ages. So I had a morning class for K-3, and an afternoon class for 4-8. The older grade scared me more. I know kindergartners. I’m around them, we share a space, and occasionally I interact with them. Middle schoolers are a whole different animal. I thought the little ones would be easy, the older ones more challenging.
Good god, was I wrong.
Little kids have no logic. I’m sure this is obvious to some of you, at least on some level, but I doubt many people realize this truth I’ve come to be painfully aware of: humans under 7 are feral creatures who thrive on chaos. Yes, they are adorable, and sweet, and fun. But I challenge anyone reading this to attempt to make a pie dough with someone who has not yet attended public school, and come out with your sanity intact.
Here are a few highlights from the week:
Little kids who have to pee will grab at and compulsively knead their crotches. They will make direct eye contact with you while they do this. When you ask if they have to go to the bathroom, they will say ” No…?!” In a way that is somehow a question and a firm denial. Then they will ask to go at the least convenient time ever. They also don’t like to go alone. This will entail either leaving a group of 5-7 year olds alone in a room to accompany one down the hall, or making a whole group field trip together to stand outside the bathroom whispering louder than most people yell while other classes look at you with clear concern and mild fear.
I’m going to eat this, but not that.
This was a cooking class. We cooked food, and we ate it. On one end of the spectrum, we have the boy who was grossed out by everything. The smell of potatoes, the feel of flour dough, the sound of apples being chopped, and anything, ANYTHING, to do with corn. He would loudly announce “Eeeeeew!” all the time. I tried to get him to switch to a different word- maybe he could say ‘bologna!’ instead. “No, I want you to know when I’m grossed out” was his response.
On the other end of the spectrum, we had the human garbage disposal- who also happened to be not only the smallest person in the class, but the smallest person I have ever worked with in my capacity as an educator. He had turned five last week. He was adorable, eager to please, and probably would have eaten the other students had they not been constantly in motion. I learned fast to say “Do NOT eat this!” when I put something down on his plate. On the very first day, when we started cutting up tomatoes for sauce (with plastic butter knives) he ate half a tomato in a bite before I could stop him.
That’s not to say he didn’t keep eating things. In 5 days he ate portions of an apple core, apple seeds, raw dough, and several tablespoons of butter. When we had leftovers after making pizza, he ate the cheese with a sense of single minded purpose that was frightening. At recess, he sat on top of the slide eating fistfuls of pepperoni and laughing to himself.
He also ate literally everything we cooked, which included portion sizes most adults would be daunted by.
I teach kids. I know they don’t generally follow directions. Third and fourth graders get distracted, they decide they know better, they’re too concerned with their friends to care about directions. I’m used to that.
But little ones? That’s a whole different story.
I had conversations like this multiple times a day.
Little girl: “Where does this go?” Holding up empty bowl and spoon.
Me: “In the sink, sweetie.”
Girl: Stares at me in silence.
Me: “Put it in the sink, please.”
Girl: “Where does the spoon go?”
Me: “It all goes in the sink.”
Girl: “Where does the bowl go?”
Me: “Everything in your hands goes in the sink. The bowl and spoon go in the sink.”
Girl: Stares at me, frozen and silent.
Me: “Sweetie, put the bowl and spoon in the sink.”
Girl: “Ok…” Walks away
7 seconds later
Girl: “Where does this go?” holds up spoon and bowl
Me: Moment of silence to figure out if this is a joke… “Where do you think it goes?”
Girl: “Um, the twash?”
Me: Silent, staring. “In the sink, sweetie. The SINK!”
Then she put it UNDER a table?! Why? Fourth graders would do that and then say “Ha! I put it under the table. Hilarious!” They would not actually go through a thought process and decide yes, this is where this should go.
I’m used to kids giving me high fives, poking me when they need something, occasionally asking for a hug. Little ones are different. This week was about 85-90 degrees every day. It was also humid. When we went outside, everyone was dripping wet in about 3 minutes. When offered indoor recess, however, no one wanted to stay in and play games, preferring instead to go outside and risk 2nd degree burns on the metal playground equipment. I stayed on a nearby bench, watching to make sure everyone was safe.
Without fail, one of the kids would come sit with me. I would smile and chat with them, and meanwhile they would get closer and closer to me, while I scooted away until I was on the edge of the bench. Then the tiny one would either get next to me so their body was completely against mine, or climb onto my lap. The sweatiest snuggles ever.
Meanwhile, the middle schoolers were predictable. Every sentence had 14 ‘likes’ and 23 ‘ohmygods’ and there was eye rolling, but in the end, they followed directions, did what they needed to do, thanked me, and only threw handfuls of flour into each other’s faces while shrieking 7 times.
Early childhood and primary educators, you have my deepest respect.