December 1, 2013

Grumpy Side of 60 - Helping a child understand

I wonder if the horses were as cold as I was Saturday night. I had on my flannel shirt, the heaviest overcoat I own… and it was still brutal.

I also discovered something in my coat pockets… a child’s broken sunglasses and a weird orange rubber ball covered with tiny rubber spikes.

I’d only worn the coat a couple times this year and never had to dig into the pockets for my gloves. This time I pulled out my gloves and there they were.

Broken sunglasses and a rubber ball with spikes.


And they came from... no proof, but I’m guessing East School playground.

I’ve had some wonderful, fascinating, fulfilling… and strange… experiences with third and fourth graders at East.

One young man adopted me. Never had him in class but I remember well the tap on my back two years ago. I had playground duty… I turned around and no one was there. Then I looked down… there he was, a huge grin on his face.

“You know me?”

“Nope.” I had to grin, too.

“I’m Joe Z. Know my sister?”

“Nope.” Still grinning.

“Her name is Dora Z. She’s in the fourth grade. I’m in the third grade.”

“Glad to meet you Joe and Dora.”

I never saw Dora again, but from that day forward every time I was on the playground I would be greeted with a tap on the back. Sometimes Joe would make his presence known then take off. Sometimes, if he was bored, he’d hang onto me until it was time to go inside.

He loved to explore my pockets. I lost track of the number of times I had to grab his hand and remove it from a pocket. Once it had latched onto my cell phone. Another time it was attached to my pocket camera.

Wouldn’t surprise me in the least if he didn’t decide to put something in the pockets once or twice… a pair of broken sunglasses or an orange rubber ball with tiny rubber spikes.

Then there are the kids who might have wanted me to hold something for them and forgot to get it back. The rubber ball would have been a no-no in the building. The broken sunglasses? Who knows?

I won’t rule out a “deposit” in my coat to keep from getting into trouble.

Probably my favorite experience, however, was in the classroom. I was subbing in a class that had a number of students who needed extra help. My job was to help them.

“I need help, please.” Sure. “Not so close.” Okay. Oops… did I forget to gargle that morning? Nope. “You smell like Fritos,” he said. I’d eaten them for lunch. So I backed off.

He thanked me for the help.

The same day another student was having trouble with numbers concepts… seven figures, six figures and so on.

It went something like this: 600,000 is a bigger number than 1,325,000 because it starts with a six. Most students were learning the concept of a million, hundred thousand and so on. At least I think that was the approach being used.

She couldn’t get it. She had no trouble if the number of digits was the same, but not when they were different.

“Try this… how many digits in 600,000?” Six. “How many digits in 1,325,000?” Seven. “Which one has more digits?” 1,325,000. “Then which one is bigger?”


“That’s right.”

No other way to say it, but her eyes lit up. She had a huge grin on her face.

She understood.

And I understood why teachers teach… Not too many situations I can think of that offer such a fulfilling experience as helping a child understand something he or she is struggling with.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Please take some time to help your child understand the true meaning of the Christmas holiday season. God Bless!


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