It happened every year on St. Patrick’s Day. I’d swing open the door of my classroom to 30 eagerly awaiting kindergarteners and prepare to deliver the unsettling news. Our classroom was a mess. Somehow, blocks and toys had been left all over the floor, paints had been tipped over, and tiny little green footprints covered the countertops and whiteboards! The children would always be horrified…delightfully horrified.
There was never any argument about the clean-up. Everyone was anxious to help, confident that under the next pile of blocks or in the next cupboard, they would find the leprechaun responsible for the mess. It had to be a leprechaun, didn’t it? Although an actual mischievous sprite of Irish folklore was never caught, several were seen running past the door or escaping over the playground fence. It would be well into April before the sightings stopped.
I suspicioned that when I left kindergarten for third grade , I’d miss the naive charm of a five-year old. Although most third graders no longer believed in leprechauns or other fascinating creatures, they delighted in other things. One of those things was the magic of nature. A lizard zipping across the pavement would bring squeals of excitement from most eight-year olds. I was always reminding my students that a paper cup and a handful of grass was not the natural habitat for ladybugs but there were times when their wide eyes, brimming with tears, would force me to concede…”How about releasing them after you show mom and dad?” Their enhancement with nature was undeniable and it didn’t stop with living things.
We were lucky enough to have a large, six-foot window in our classroom that looked out on a grassy area and several trees. Not the students that passed by the window or even the workers that climbed ladders, in front of our window to the roof, caused as much of a distraction as the changing weather. Every time it started to rain, there would be a rumble in the classroom, a couple of my most impulsive students escaping from their seats to get a closer look. The first time it happened, I headed to the window with full intentions of closing the blinds. But, I stopped.
Wasn’t curiosity the very thing that teachers hoped to encourage? I believed it played as important of a role, in the education of a child, as learning facts. And isn’t a certain portion of adult success (that is a long-term goal of educators, after all) measured by personal happiness? It always seemed to me that happiness had more to do with being awed by life and the things around you than it did with wealth or fame.
But most of all, I had promised myself, as a young college student, that I would always be a champion of childhood. Closing the blinds, at that moment, would be communicating that enjoying the sights and sounds of the rain was far less important than our lessons. But the rain wouldn’t last forever and their attention spans were short. The mystery of the rain would pass and we would be able to get back to the joys of multiplication. But for now, for this short moment in time, we needed to delight in what was in front of us. And so we did.
I learned numerous lessons, from my students, over the course of my teaching career. I always knew childhood was a magical time but they reminded me, year after year, that keeping life magical had a lot to do with knowing when to let your imagination run wild and remembering to view everyday events as celebrations. And those, thank goodness, are lessons I don’t have to let go of as I age.