We were reading a book about food and drink. Kadija, let's call her, was pointing to pictures on each page and asking me which item I liked best.
Watermelon, I said.
That's not coffee, she said of the scoop taken out of a rich brown pile of ground coffee beans. That's dirt.
And sure enough, when I looked at it from her perspective, it could have been dirt.
I had a rotating cast of three to four kids bringing me books to read, scrambling for room on a small love seat and my lap. We did a train book, a book on colors, one showing how a house was built and one about dinosaurs, of course.
In that sort of picture book context, I'm not often reading so much as guiding them through the book, letting them turn the pages and focus on what interests them. They set the pace. They remark and ask questions. I use their own attention to lead them to learn something new.
Sometimes they make up their own story using the book as inspiration. It's a sort of preschool fanfiction.
Today, Kadija wanted to "read" a book to me. I picked out a book about a cat who keeps inviting a mouse to play while the mouse keeps coming up with excuses to stay in his hole. She'd obviously had the book read to her before, because each time the mouse's refrain to the cat appeared, she repeated it. As for the rest of the story, she told it loosely, riffing on the pictures.
After reading it to me twice, she picked up a book adaptation of A Bug's Life and launched into a far more detailed and emphatic account. I'm not sure how closely it followed the original story about ants in conflict with grasshoppers because it was hard to hear in the general chatter of the room. (Maybe it's time to get my hearing checked.) But thanks to her rendition, for the first time I've become aware that ladybugs are boys as well as girls.
Because he's lactose-intolerant, Dion can't drink milk so he gets water with his snack. Today, I'd give him the cup and he'd push it back. He also refused his orange wedge.
I squeezed the orange slice into the cup. Here, I said, orange juice.
He downed the water and asked for more.
A class of 17 preschoolers in constant flux between refusal and acceptance. One of my jobs is to find that little twist or distraction that brings a kid from tears to laughter, from fighting to peace, from wanting to go home to wanting to be in school.
When there's a disagreement over the agenda, the adults eventually win. We're bigger and stronger with more smarts, resources and authority than the kids in the class.
If I were a country, I'd be America and they'd be Venezuela, Greece, Libya and Uzbekistan. But if I were a president, I'd be careful about how I exerted my superior power.
Why shouldn't I just order more ships and rattle more bayonets?
Because it's possible to be an adult without being a tyrant. Because these kids are already up against superior power and coercion. Because they learn better when they're hooked into something they already know or want to know.
Because some day they will be running the world, and I won't be, and they already know how to fight.