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post #314
bio: chris

first post
that week

Previous Posts
On Sting (and other crap)
Things I Say to My Dad, Because (like myself) He Thinks, Irrationally, He's Going to Die Soon
Why Hipstamatic Was Invented
Happy Mother's Day, Y'all
Black Pear Tree (Guest Post from John Darnielle)

As I get more into this whole teaching the younggins things, I find that it’s pretty much all I think about these days. It makes me think back to when I was that age – 3 and 4 mostly – and what it was that I did and what was presented to me that got me to learn.

I was a pretty smart kid when I was a kid, so whatever happened seemed to work well. And, luckily, I can actually remember back to when I was very young. Some people call bullshit on me for this. But I honestly can. I remember playing in my playpen before I could walk. I had this plastic animal set that had a hippo in it. I loved that hippo. It was funny looking and was like nothing I had seen before in the real lifes. The hippo fascinated me.

As an emerging teacher, I think about what I want to do for the kids. What I think I needed at that age, what I wanted at that age, and how to give it to them. For me right now, I know I need to be able to do three things.

One is present the fundamentals. This is not something I do a whole lot of. But as they get older, reading/language, counting, phonetics, etc… it’s important to give them the building blocks for these things. The older ones are just learning to read and write. The physical-mental connection for writing seems to be the most difficult for them. Getting different parts of the brain to work in sync, it takes practice. And it takes guidance.

Two is that they’re emerging personalities, and as such, they are for the first time starting to take an interest in the world around them. Up until now, they have spent most of their lives as babies, where the people around them feed them and hold them and love them and do everything for them. But as they get social with other kids around them, they realize that there’s a whole world out there for them to explore. And man, do they want to explore it. Something I want to do is present the world to them – art, music, culture – and not so much in a “kids” way, but what we see as adults and what they’re about to merge into. They eat it up, and they’re hungry for more. Sometimes I struggle with that. I want to show them so much of what is out there, art and music and culture-wise and find what’s an appropriate level of sophistication for what they’re ready for without overwhelming them.

Three is that they need friends. The great thing about nursery school is that it’s an introduction to Sociology for emerging young minds. And they’re in a place for 3, 4, 5 hours a day with their peers. They learn a lot about being social just by being around people of their own age for a sustained period of time. But they also need to be trusted and get to know the other new, foreign grown-ups who are guiding them through the process. It’s important to become friends with these little guys and girls. And it isn’t hard, because as you get to know them and work with them every day, you can’t help but be friends with them. They talk to you about things that are on their minds, and what they talk about is more sophisticated than you might expect. And as you develop a vocabulary with each kid, and your conversations go further, you find that they trust you and you trust them. That’s how friendships form at the fundamental level, and there’s nothing more gratifying than the moment when you discover these little emerging people are, in fact, your friends. And not in the bullshit “I see you every day” sense. In the “I’m excited to spend a day with you” sense.

That third part I feel I’m really good at. And in doing so, I’ve gotten to know some of their parents reasonably well. And the fact that their parents are happy to see me every day and take the time to spend a few minutes a day with themselves, their kid, and I… well, I feel like I’m doing some good for a lot of people.

When I think about all of these things put together, I am reminded of the way I learned numbers. I’ve never been good at math, and though I learned to read rather early in life (I had just turned three and took a Richard Scarry book to my mom and read the whole thing to her. My dad picked me up on his shoulder, kissed my face, and fed me cereal while tossing me in the air. Yes, I remember this.) numbers always gave me trouble.

So, what I did was give personalities to the Base Ten numbers, plus one. This is what I came up with.

0 – 0 Wasn’t a person, but more of a state. 0 was empty. 0 was nothingness. It was at the bottom of the scale, and it was what all of the numbers were afraid of falling into. 0 existed as a warning. What not to become, but was right there in the pit of it all, always there to fall into and something to rail against and never be.

1 – 1 is baby. The baby of the family. I never decided on a gender for 1. 1 was the baby. Brand new, just ate and pooped and added a Plus One to everyone around her. 1 was a pleasant baby, though. Never crying too much and not giving anyone much of a fight.

2 – 2 is 1’s older brother. Has learned to walk and be verbal on an elementary basis. Loves 1 and looks after one. He’s a good bigger brother. He doubles everyone’s enjoyment factor. Likes to eat. Is interested in food. He’s a lovely child.

3 – is the Bad Boy. He’s a little older than 2 and older than 1, and he causes trouble. He throws things, is a picky eater, and makes life difficult for his parents. That said, he’s an inquisitive mind, and as difficult as he can be, knows the people around him love him and he loves them back. But he makes things difficult for everyone around him. He loves to throw tantrums.

4 – 4 is the older sister. And at this point in her life, she is fascinated with 5, who is her older brother. She feels removed from 3, 2, and 1, but 5 is closest to her in age and everything he does is Gold. She calms 3 down when he’s being a pain in the ass, and gives snacks to 2 and is extremely thrilled when her mom lets her give the bottle to 1. She wants to take care of everybody.

5 – is the second-oldest kid in the family. 5 is an interesting case. 5 looks at everyone around him and thinks “where do I fit in?” He’s kind of done with all the attention 1,2, and 3 get. He's really close to 4, since she’s closest to him in age, but gets annoyed with her constant attention-seeking. Yet he tries to be good for her. He gets annoyed with her, but will never put her off.

5 is also enamored with 6, who we’ll get to in a minute.

6 – is not part of the family. 6 is the teenage girl in the neighborhood that 5 knows, and 5 thinks he’s madly in love with her, because she’s the older girl who gives him a lot of attention. 6 babysits for 5. 6 is maybe 13 or 14. She dates 7. 5 HATES 7. She’s a sweet girl who’s become part of the 1-5 family trust-tree, and she adores the family. But she’s a teenager and she’s starting a life outside of kid-dom. It’s a tough balance for her. She struggles with her schoolwork and is ultimately a good kid, but confused.

7 – is a greaser. He’s probably about 15, and the older boyfriend of 6. He thinks he’s a bad-ass. He yells at 6 all the time because she’s not as cool as he is. He’s verbally abusive to her. He thinks he’s soooooooo cool. But he has a cool car and smokes, and 6 thinks he’s awesome. So she puts up with his crap, because she wants a cool boyfriend.

5 is always giving 7 crap for being such a douchebag, but 7 just laughs him off because “hey, he’s just a kid.” And it kills 5 to see 6 with him, because 5 think he’d be so much better for her, but knows he’s too young to have the cool car and cool hair and will probably never be cool enough for 6 to like him.

8 – is the grandfather of the 1-5 family. He’s big, fat, and jolly. He’s always around playing with and looking after 1-5. 5 especially likes him. He’s just a good guy who’s found his way in life, is retired, and wants to enrich the youngsters around him. He doesn’t bullshit them. He likes his whiskey at night and plays poker with his other retired friends who like cigars. He hides nothing and is very truthful. He’s just a damn good guy.

9 – is the Grandmother. She’s even older than 8, and she has a hard time getting around. But she makes the effort to play with the kids and cook a great damn meal for the entire family. She walks with a cane, and when the time comes, will most likely be the first to go. 3-5 recognize this, and take extra care to spend time with her when they can. She is fragile, but able. And the older numbers recognize this.

10 – 10 is removed from the entire situation. He is the oldest in the 1-5 family. 10 is something like 22 years old. He’s graduated from the single digits and has moved away from the family. He has a college degree and wants to spend all his time with 11, 12, 13 and up. The 2-5’s look up to him like he’s some kind of God and really want to know what the 11s, 12s, and 13s of the world are really like. He comes home for holidays and likes to play with the kids, but spends most of his time on the phone, looking for something else to do.

Even still, he is what the 1-5’s want to be.

And yeah, that’s how I learned to count. And though no one believes me, I thought of all that when I was very young. How young, I’m not sure. But I remember looking at the Alphabet Giraffes on my kid-room wallpaper and devising that. And that wallpaper didn’t last long. I’m more articulate about it now, but that’s the gist of it.

I hope I can get the kids to think kind of like that. Not entirely like that, because there’s so much else out there and so many other things to learn about in so many other ways. But I think the approach I took as a kid opened me up to other things. And I hope that what I share with them opens them up to be able to think conceptually about the world around them.

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