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The Child Whisperer

March 11, 2012 25 comments

The flip-side of last week’s post thankfully, is that there are many amazing teachers that devote their whole lives to educating children. These people influence who we are in the most positive of ways, for life. Children do not forget who they are. They too are remembered and cherished forever.

In the Spring of 2001, curiosity got the better of me. My quest to find the right preschool for my overly active, precocious, almost 3-year-old son, finally provided the opportunity for me to see what was really going on in the mysterious looking Victorian house that sits majestically upon a hill overlooking the busy-ness of Route 9D. Little did I know as I walked into the hallway that echoed with song and laughter, that in-between the walls of this house that was a school, magic happened.

We were met by the cheerful smile of a woman who greeted us in the same friendly way you might be greeted by a favorite aunt. She introduced herself as Diane. We later found out that she was actually the Head Teacher of the Downstairs Program and an Administrator. The Downstairs portion of the house belongs to the 3, 4 and 5-year old learners. Immediately after introducing herself, she turned her attention to her real interest; the fidgety, inquisitive, little person clutching my leg with one hand and squeezing my arm with the other. She positioned herself on bended-knee to meet my boy; to see him, face-to-face, and as soon as I witnessed this act of immense respect from an adult educator to a 3-year-old child, I knew we had just walked into a very, very special place.

There is something about looking a person in the eye when you speak to them that makes them feel like you are sincerely interested in who they are and what they have to say and she was. He could tell.

You can’t fool children. Instinctively, they know sincerity.

My Noah, thrilled to be standing on the back of a hay truck during a visit to the farm with Diane. Preschool 2001

Diane wasn’t my son’s group teacher until two years later, but being the head of the Downstairs team, her influences and interactions were intertwined with all of the children. In his second year there, at age 4, having no trouble expressing himself verbally or physically among his peers, Diane “shadowed” Noah on the playground. Being the Child Whisperer* that she is, she followed him in his play, gently helping him choose kinder words and actions when he mingled with his friends.

Friends. That’s what Diane calls all of her students.

Okay, friends, it’s time to clean up the block room or Okay friends, we are going to get ready for lunchtime circle now.  

Diane and Hannah playing with the play-dough she brought to our house.

Part of the school’s tradition was for the Downstairs’ teachers to make home visits to the children in their groups before school began in September. Twice we’ve been thrilled to welcome Diane into our home; once when my son was in her kindergarten group and again, before the start of my daughter’s first year at the Randolph School. Diane was her preschool teacher. She came bearing soft, freshly made play-dough to an unbelievably excited three-year-old fairy.

      Talk about leaving a lasting impression!

This amazing teacher does not limit her generous nature to the children in her group. My daughter was struggling with writing in the second grade while in the Upstairs portion of this glorious house that is a school and where the older kids, first through fifth graders claim their domain. After asking me how Hannah was doing one day, I mentioned this to Diane who then took it upon herself to become her pen-pal that summer. Each envelope that arrived in our mailbox contained a hand written note and then some. Sparkly-feathery, sticker-y, lovely, glittery things would come pouring out before the letter.

The smallest act of kindness has the power to leave a very big, positive impact on a person’s life.

When my son was in kindergarten and told Diane he was playing the lottery for the first time, she told him to call her at home that night to let her know if he won. Had he won, no doubt, his reaction would have paled in comparison to the excitement he was overcome with when it came time to call Diane at her house and tell her he didn’t win.

Another time my son was scheduled to be in After-school but was the only child enrolled that afternoon. After bringing that to my attention the After-school teacher asked me if it would be okay to cancel. Since I only put him in because he wanted to stay at school, I agreed. This news was a huge disappointment to my little first grader and he through a massive fit on the porch of the school. That evening after speaking with him and hearing how much he was looking forward to being in After-school, I realized I had made a grave mistake by so willingly accepting the cancellation, simply because he was the only child enrolled. The next day, I sought Diane out and explained what happened. I asked her what the school’s policy was if there was only one child enrolled in the After-school program. Her response was swift and clear.

If one child wants to come to After-school, we have After-school.  Now, she said, there’s one thing left for us to do.

With that, she called over the After-school teacher. The two of them went Upstairs, retrieved my son from class, apologized to him, hugged him and invited him to stay in After-school that day.

Truly extraordinary.

Diane seining in the Hudson River with another amazing teacher and their preschoolers. Noah, first in line, is like a sponge, soaking up everything they do and say.

Whether it’s a tender heart that needs mending, a river that begs seining or a rocket that needs launching, Diane has been soothing little souls, helping them to feel capable and confident in who they are, what they can do and who they might become since 1978 at the Randolph School.

 Don’t get your liver in a quiver she’ll tell them when they begin to fret.

5-year-old Hannah launching her rocket with Diane.

A person who can consistently touch the lives of the people she comes in contact with, both big and small and make each one of them, myself included, feel special nearly every time she interacts with them has an EXTRAORDINARY gift. Truly.

That is Diane.

My children are better people for having been taught by Diane. I’m a better person for knowing her and having the honor of “over-hearing” how she speaks with and teaches children for the past six years while I quietly work across the hall from the Great Room where she spends much of her time with her friends.

A few months ago Diane announced that this will be her last year teaching in the big house that is a school and as inevitable as it was, the news has surely saddened many. No matter where Diane goes however, her influence, kindness and ability to make everyone she meets feel special will live on in our hearts, always. She is the teacher, the colleague, the friend that changes your life in the most positive of ways.

It is befitting that this weekend, Diane is presenting a workshop with a former student, who is now her young colleague and who is also bursting with similar magical qualities, at a conference in New York City entitled, In Defense of Childhood: Keeping the Joy of Learning Alive!

She’s been doing exactly that for nearly 34-years.

As my soon to be 11-year-old fairy who’s been receiving birthday and Christmas surprises from this teacher every year for almost as long as she’s been at this school would say so matter-of-factly…

 “Mom. She’s Diane!”

Is there a Diane that has positively impacted your life?

Photo Credit #1 The Randolph School

Photo Credit #2-6 Karen Szczuka Teich & http://www.takingtheworldonwithasmile.com

Title Credit: *Child Whisperer Thank you, Nicole for letting me borrow this description of Diane from you!

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A Wet Haven

June 5, 2011 4 comments

Think back to when you were a kid in grammar school. What would it have been like for you, if you were able to throw a bucket of water over your “favorite” teacher’s head without fear of retribution? What if, once a year, you were allowed, encouraged even to get the principal or head of school soaken wet?

My girl soaks her math/science/this is how you build a rocket, teacher!

And what if, even after you left that school, you were still allowed to come back at the end of the year and take part in a wild and wet, water-splash-out of students vs. teachers and parents?

My boy gets to come back and relive this thrill even after being gone for two years!

Six years ago, I began working at the small progressive school my kids attended so I could be near them and see firsthand, what it was all about and why my kids barely got any homework. Coming from a catholic grammar school and an all girl catholic high school, I was a little skeptical of the progressive education that I’d signed on to for them. I ended up getting an education for myself, on what it means for a child to be in an environment that nurtures their curiosity and fosters the development of a life-long love of learning. For eight years my son went to the Randolph School. He left after 5th grade. My daughter is finishing up 4th grade. Next year will be her last. I’m already feeling sad.

The curriculum at Randolph School is project based. Several months are devoted to one study at a time, such as birds, Native Americans and human flight. Math, English, Social Studies and Science all get incorporated into the study using a hands on learning approach. These kids are out and about, seeing, doing, building and loving what they’re learning. They’ve done some pretty awesome things too, like making paper and cooking an annual ThanksGiving meal with vegetables they planted and harvested themselves. They’ve tapped maple trees, collected sap and boiled it down to make their own syrup for a pancake lunch. They’ve been schooled on tracking people and animals, building shelters in the wilderness and trebuchets in the back field. They know how to use the resources they have to solve a problem. Each child builds a rocket and launches it every year and each year ends with an adventure day which usually involves a hike along the Hudson river or in this year’s case, a walk across the Hudson River on the newly opened, Walkway Over the Hudson. After the adventure there’s an all-school barbecue. After the barbecue, the older kids, students in kindergarten through 5th grade, get to camp-out behind the school with parents and teachers. Tents are pitched at the bottom of the same hill the kids and teachers, sled down during the winter. A bon fire is made, songs are sung, stories are told, s’mores are eaten.

Somewhere in-between the end of the adventure and the beginning of the barbecue, a twenty-plus-year-old tradition lives on. It began when two teachers who overheard a plot being hatched by two students to bring water guns to the camp-out, staged a surprise counter-attack, fully equipped with their own loaded water-guns and behold, a no holds back, teacher-parent-student water splash-out filled with 100% pure fun was born!

A wet haven for kids of all ages! Splash-Out June 2011

It’s tough being a kid. Society is drenched with all kinds of peer pressures and technological enticements. Finding a place in early childhood where children are free to be themselves, free of some of these stresses just long enough to give them a solid footing is a blessing.

So much of parenting is like playing pin the tail on the donkey. Without foresight, you point yourself in what you hope is the right direction and move forward, praying that you hit the target. Sometimes, you get lucky and hit it dead center.  Other times, you veer way off to the left or the right and have to go back and try again.

Sending my children to a school that encourages kids to be kids was a “hitting the target dead center” move — a blessing.

The result, is that they love to learn, they always will and I am very grateful.

What do you love about your child’s school?

 

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