I didn’t know Friday (April 22, 2011) was Earth Day.  If it weren’t for this week’s kindergarten class, I probably wouldn’t have known until I saw Google’s earthy logo that day.   When I was in school, I remember briefly talking about Earth Day, and I think my class planted a tree in celebration.  But the kindergarteners are celebrating all week long, and began by learning about “going green.”

earth-day-2011

That being said, they already knew a fair amount about the eco-friendly way of life.  A few students pretty clearly articulated the purpose of “going green” was to reduce, reuse, and recycle.  Anne Marie explained how a compost pile worked.  Mynique described the recycling process (“you give them your old paper and they turn it into new paper again”).  Everyone could point to the recycling bin at the front of the classroom.  All in all, I was really impressed with how environmentally conscious all of the kids were.

Together we learned about other ways to protect the environment by reading Miss Fox’s Class Goes Green by Eileen Spinelli.  One idea that Miss Fox had that I thought was particularly clever was a “toy swap:” each of her students brought an old toy or game that he or she was tired of and switched it with a classmate so each student ended up with a new toy without actually buying a new toy.  When I was in kindergarten I think I would have loved that idea (my friends always seemed to have more exciting toys than I did).  Indeed, the kids let out a collective “ooooh” when we read the few pages about the toy swap.  Future class project, anyone?  I think it would be a huge hit.

Whether it’s because of their parents, their teachers, or just a general change in culture, I’m pretty glad these little kids are aware of simple things to help the environment.  I certainly wasn’t aware of all this stuff when I was 6.  From writing on both sides of paper to bringing re-usable bags to the grocery store, everyone seemed to know the basics of living green.

I can’t think of a much better way to ease back into the throes of law school after a stressful and work-filled Spring Break than playing snowball Bingo with some kindergartners.

Each week the students receive new “sight words;” basically just flash cards with new words and pictures so they can learn to spot the words and know the meaning. This week the kids were working on distinguishing among old sight words; recognizing that the addition or change of a single letter can make a difference on the pronunciation and meaning of a word (“in” versus “it,” “sad” versus “said,” etc.).

One of the great things about working in kindergarten on Mondays is that there are a couple of other helpers, so I get to work more closely with a smaller group of kids. This week I was with two or three students at a time, distinguishing sight words by playing Bingo.

Since each of the student’s Bingo board had all of the same words, everyone won at the same time.  None of them found it unusual that they all called out, “BINGO!” at the same time.  The kids had a blast trying to be the first to find the word on their boards, and I was really impressed with how quickly they can find words now.  I’ve been volunteering with the same class since September, so the progress they have made is really remarkable.

It actually took less time than I thought to finish a round, so we spent our remaining time building things out of the little Bingo markers and talking about St. Patrick’s Day.  One girl squealed, “Oh, St. Patrick’s Day!  If you don’t wear green, you get tickled!”  She proceeded to tell the rest of the table about the tradition, which in my experience consisted of pinches, not tickles, so I was happy about that change.

I can’t wait to get back to the classroom next week to hear about how everyone celebrated.  And to see what adorable construction paper creations I’m sure they made!

“Look at me momma,” the child exclaimed, his mouth sprawling into a toothy grin. “I’m swimming.” For many patients at the Kluge Children’s Rehabilitation Clinic the simple act of ambulating from their wheelchairs on solid ground is an insurmountable feat, let alone swimming. Thus, any progress made, however remote, can bring about the most indelible feelings of accomplishment.

This week was one riddled with progress. A patient who had previously struggled performing some of the most mundane of tasks was now leading her own exercises, pushing instructor-set benchmarks and exceeding the expectations of us all. While finishing one lap had been laudable last week, the threshold for praise was upended as the patient began strapping on weights and frolicking around the pool like a young Dara Torres.

We were also introduced to a new patient who was afflicted with an illness significantly more debilitating than any others I have ever worked with. Though I cannot personally speak to the taxing effects epilepsy can have on a person’s mental and physical acuity, I must say I admire all who deal with this on a day-to-day basis. Progress would almost immediately be impeded by a onslaught of spontaneous fits and convulsions.  This patient required constant support — both physically and mentally — throughout the session but by the end had managed to reach all of his goals for the day.

While I have been fortunate enough to work with children stricken with a wide range of disorders and diseases, of recent, we have experienced a noticeable decline in children enrolling in the Aquatics program: both in- and out-patients. It is unknown whether this stands as a barometer for the precarious state of healthcare in America or less people simply need our assistance. Nevertheless, I hope to continue working with patients as they are not the only ones benefiting from the experience: the reward is mutual.

Apple picking is the perfect fall activity. Up on Carter’s Mountain, the brisk breeze and the changing leaves almost seem to envelop you. When I heard about Big Siblings going apple picking, I immediately told TaMarah that we HAD to go. Driving for about 20 minutes was like a lifetime for a 6 year old, prompting many “are we there yet?”s.  But once we started picking apples, TaMarah proudly proclaimed that it was “all worth it.”

We skipped around hand-in-hand picking delicious apples, and jumping to reach the best ones.  Happening upon rotten, bug-infested apples, in synchrony we exclaimed “ewwww” and bent down to get a better view, then promptly jumping backward in disgust. We decided that we should avoid all apples that had bugs—such a great life lesson.

After TaMarah was worn out from apple picking, she hopped on my back and we (I) trudged up the hill. After only a few dropped flip-flops, we made it to the apple donuts that Madison House provided. Let’s just say that we got our fill—or maybe more. On sugar highs, we scampered to the wooden apple and stuck our heads in the hole pretending to be the caterpillar and snapping photos.

When we tired of that, we went to the pumpkin patch and TaMarah decided it would be a good idea to use the pumpkins as a balance beam. Holding on to my arm, she teetered over the lines of pumpkins. After the whirlwind of activity, we quenched our thirst with some apple cider, and then decided to head back home, while blasting none other than Hannah Montana.

Hanging out with TaMarah is like second nature; now I just pick her up and we head off for our weekly adventures. For our second outing, we decided to hang out at my apartment. I had gotten brownie mix and watercolors, thinking that this would definitely entertain us for three hours. However, I soon learned that the attention span of a six-year old was about 10 minutes.

Like any smart girl, TaMarah asked if she could paint while I baked the brownies for her.  Painting pictures of all our favorite things like butterflies, flowers, and horses occupied us for a bit, but the next thing I knew, she was scurrying off to my room to find some more entertainment… now what were we going to do?  Eyeing my nails, I suggested painting our nails. WOW—that a success.  OF COURSE she wanted to paint her nails, but only if she could paint hers by herself.  The end result: every nail a different color and nail polish all over her hands and feet.

After painting my nails (and hands) orange and pink, we went back to our original icebreaker: Hannah Montana.  We attempted to learn the Hoedown Throwdown from YouTube. Sadly, I don’t think we did it justice. I was rapidly running out of things to do and TaMarah was on a sugar-high from her brownie. Luckily, Photobooth came to the rescue.  As we sat at my computer pretending to be zombies, riding a rollercoaster, and morphing our faces, I realized this year was going to be a whirlwind with TaMarah, definitely filled with attitude (direct quote: “don’t call me chica, call me gurl) and of course, laughter.

roller coaster

Today was my first day as a Big Sibling. The hardest part was the initial meeting. Driving to TaMarah’s house, all I knew was her mother’s voice and that her favorite color was pink. In training, we had heard a range of anecdotes, so I didn’t know what to expect in the least.

As I walked up to her door, a six-year old glued to her mom’s side greeted me. As I began to introduce myself, she hid her face from me. I could tell she was nervous—if only she knew I was just as nervous as her. Luckily, as her mom bragged about how she had received an award at school for being the “most respectful,” she opened up, and begged her mom and I to play with her outside. Within minutes of my arrival, we had whipped out the hula-hoop, jump rope, and drawn hopscotch. I knew that the seemingly shy girl was in fact rambunctious.

After hitting it off on our first meeting, I decided to take her to the Mid-Autumn Carnival. Our first time, just us two, was made easier with a little help from Hannah Montana. Blasting “Party in the USA,” we moved right passed the initial awkwardness.

face paint

At the carnival, we got tattoos and played games. I think that the people running the dunking booth were thoroughly soaked after we left. (Not being able to hit the target hard enough, TaMarah took matters into her own hands, and ran up and hit the target making the dunkee fall in the water.) After an afternoon at the carnival, TaMarah was wiped out and pleaded for a piggyback ride back to the car. Walking down the corner with her on my back, I knew that we were going to get along great.

I realized as I walked up to the gate leading into the Molly Michie Preschool that I was a little nervous. This Friday was my first day to volunteer at the preschool. What if I mess up? What will the teacher think of me? Most importantly, will the kids like me? Kids have this innate sense about them—they can figure you out in a minute and decide whether you are worth their time or not. It can be a scary thing to walk into a room with fifteen four and five year old kids.

I made sure to be extra early for my first day. When I walked through the door, Ms. Avie, one of the teachers, helped me sign in and find my volunteer tag. This semester I am working with the Five Day Friends, the class of four and five-year-olds that meets five days a week. I made my way to the back of the building, where Ms. Lori, the teacher for my class, was setting up for the day. The room was filled with toys, books, games, crafts and music—a welcome respite to my life of desks, laptops and chalkboards. After giving me a quick tour, I helped Ms. Lori get ready for the day while quizzing her about the program.

Finally, kids started trickling in and my nerves completely faded away. Each kid that walked through the door was so full of energy and so excited for the day that I got swept up too. Their excitement was contagious. I helped decorate patriotic windsocks. I made airplanes and houses and cars out of Legos. I learned about Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama (who knew that five-year-olds were so up to date about their current President!). I helped get the snack ready and sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to one of the girls with the rest of the class. I read books to them and let them show me their artwork.

In just two hours I knew all of their names and began to discover their different personalities. They made me feel completely at ease and I had so much fun just being a kid again. Everyone that I met, the teachers and parents, were so extremely nice, energetic, and helpful. Two hours flew by so quickly, and before I knew it, I was off to my first class of the day. With a chorus of “Goodbye Brooke!!” and my last attempt to explain to one kid that I went to school too, I left to go back into the real world. I can’t wait for next Friday.

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