As if I hadn’t had my fill of hosting birthday parties in January, I held another one today – for Eeyore. Every Wednesday I lead nine first-graders in a discussion of a piece of children’s literature as part of the Junior Great Books program. I am very passionate about this organization because it fosters critical thinking and listening skills, even in the youngest of children, rather than phonics and rote reading. The sessions are not competitive and there are no right or wrong answers – only different opinions. The kid need to look deep into the stories to find the meaning and relevance to themselves.
Putting this program into practice with 6-7 year-olds immediately following a long school day has its challenges. I always incorporate games, movement and art into the sessions so the kids aren’t sitting still for the entire hour, but that doesn’t change the fact that each session includes at least 30 minutes of listening to the story reading and “shared inquiry” discussion. Boy do I have a greater appreciation for teachers since I started facilitating this program! It is so fun and rewarding to work with the kids and see them get excited about literature. Sometimes though, I do get frustrated – like when they roll around on the floor making fart noises while spreading their snacks to kingdom come. Last week was a particularly wild one because we did a dramatization of Rumpelstiltskin. Fun for them; hell for me. At the end I had kids chasing each other around the library with pencils, necessitating a couple of time-outs, which was a huge bummer for both them and me. I felt like I needed a red wine IV drip when I got home.
That evening, I pondered how I might structure the next session to curtail some of the goofiness until the end. The answer came to me immediately after looking at the title for this week’s story – Eeyore has a Birthday (and gets Two Presents). The wine-induced voice inside my head whispered, “Bribe them.” So I planned a birthday party for Eeyore, complete with cake, candles, games and balloons. The only thing the kids had to do was sit (relatively) still during the reading and take part in the discussion. I also used the candles as an extra carrot: I promised that the two kids who sat the most still for the reading while contributing thoughtfully to the discussion would get to blow out Eeyore’s candles.
Well, you could have heard a pin drop in that room. One parent came in during the reading and asked, “Are they supposed to be this quiet?”
We had a great discussion about moods, birthdays and friendship and then I let the kids loose. We all had cake and each child got a red balloon (the color Eeyore got in the story, only of course his popped). I came home feeling replenished and rewarded with warm fuzzies abounding for the kids.
This time, the only problem is that I now have the song 99 Red Luft Balloons stuck in my head. Urgh!