Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Worthy Of A Standing Ovation

Each year we either visit the our local fire house or the firefighters come to visit us. Last week they brought their truck and equipment to the school. Even though most of the kids have already had a number of direct interactions with real fire fighters, through school or other venues, it's still always a thrill. The announcement that they had arrived in our parking lot, for instance, spread like an actual wildfire as children raced up and down the halls, blatantly breaking our no running indoors rule, shouting, "The firefighters are here! They're here!" causing most to drop what they were doing to join the impromptu celebration.

I'd been preparing the kids for over a week for this day, running through a boxed curriculum the SPD provides for teachers, the core of which is a collection of discussion cards, addressing what to do should your clothing catch fire (stop, drop, and roll), what kinds of every day adult tools can be the cause of accidental fire (e.g., matches, lighters, stoves, candles, etc.), and, most importantly, I think, what to do if there is a fire in your own home. Apparently, each year dozens of children, frightened by the appearance of fully turned-out firefighters in their home's hallways, hide in fear. This, I've been told, is one of the primary objectives of their outreach to schools: to familiarize young children with the realities of modern firefighters and the equipment they might be wearing, and in particular the oxygen masks they routinely use over their faces. 

"What do you do if you see a firefighter in your house?" I prompt. And the children respond together, "Go to the firefighter!"

And, even so, even amidst our excitement last week, with actual firefighters on the scene, several of the kids, some we wouldn't have suspected, hung back, becoming suddenly timid. At least one burst into tears upon spotting fire fighters in our parking lot even though they weren't at the time wearing any special equipment at all. The point is to get to see these larger-than-life figures, the characters we mostly know as heroes in our books, as regular guys, daddies themselves, friendly, smiling. We then watch as one of them, item-by-item, dons his entire turnout suit, even talking to us through the amplification system that makes his voice sound a little like Darth Vader's.

Still, as the firefighters ran through their questions to the kids, "What do you do if your clothes catch on fire?" "Why do you crawl when there's a fire in your home?" "Where do you go if you see a firefighter in your house?" they shouted out the answers we'd been practicing at circle time, taking part in the give-and-take performance I'm sure these guys are accustomed to at each of their preschool stops. It's a kind of drilling, I suppose, but an important one, and one the children seem to thoroughly enjoy.

We've also lately been visited by another kind of community helpers: nursing students from North Seattle Community College who, as part of their education, are putting together presentations for preschoolers on the importance of, and proper techniques for, washing hands. The first group came through about a month ago to present to our 5's class. They had put together a presentation chart depicting such things as the reason we want to wash our hands (to prevent the spread of illness) times when one ought to wash up (e.g., after playing with pets, before eating, after toileting or sneezing into your hands), and the proper techniques. Good stuff, even if it is a bit of kubuki at this age.

The students got their points across, but it wasn't such smooth going as they attempted to inject direct instruction into this collection of play-based kids. I could tell they were a bit put-off by how far off topic some of the kids took the discussion, for instance, sharing with us something cute or naughty their own pets had done while in the midst of discussing why it's important to wash hands after touching animals, or giving details about green snot while being reminded to wash up after blowing one's nose. It was a typical child-directed circle time, one that often feels a bit helter-skelter to the uninitiated. I felt a bit sorry for the nursing students, who, I'm sure, had envisioned things going a bit more, shall we say, concisely.

The second group presented to our 3-5's class yesterday. What they didn't know, and what they'll never  know unless they read it here, is that I'd used the presentation board left behind by the previous group of nursing students to prepare these younger kids for this day. It was sort of a test on my part, I suppose, of the efficacy of this kind of teaching in small, tight doses. But mostly it was because I know that some of the kids really like showing off as "experts" and I thought is would be a kick to give them some limelight, and because I thought I help these nursing students experience the kind of presentation they were expecting, one with a clutch of focused, on topic, children.

When the nursing student asked, "When do you need to wash your hands," she promptly got the full list of circumstances, with few diversions.

"After you play in the sand box!"

"After you play with a kitty!"

"Before you eat food!"

"After you go to the bathroom!"

"When you get blood on you!"

"After you blow your nose!"

I don't know if she knew to be impressed or not, but I was. When the second nursing student asked why we wash our hands, I was likewise gratified as we answered entirely on point.

"To get the germs off!"

"So that you don't get sick!"

"To wash off the dirt!"

"To wash off the blood!"

When the third student asked them how long they need to wash their hands, none of them knew the "correct" answer as noted on their presentation board of "20 seconds," but when she suggested we practice by pretending to wash our hands by singing the "Happy Birthday" song twice through, the kids knew there were alternatives.

"You can also sing the A-B-C song!"

"Or Row, Row, Row Your Boat two times!"

"Or you can count to 20!"

It was when Luella tried to over-ride their Happy Birthday plans by insisting, "Let's sing the A-B-C song!" that I realized that maybe I'd taken things a little too far in pre-preparing them. After all, this was the nursing students presentation and I had usurped them. I overrode Luella by quickly saying, "Today, let's sing Happy Birthday," and we did. Since this was likely the only preschool presentation these nursing students had performed, I doubt that they appreciated the performance they'd just witnessed from their audience, but it was worthy of a standing ovation.

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Anonymous said...

We have a story teller from the library who shares new books with s once a week. I don't think she appreciates that the kids interact while she reads or that they often are off topic but something she has said. Oh well!

Anonymous said...

It baffles me that the students suspected nothing :)