The Hundred Little Things

I have a handwritten list of posts I want to write, things that are important.  There is one that has been screaming at me for a long time, with yellow highlighter and a post-it note: “The Hundred Little Things.”  It is the source of all that’s important, why everything we do is meaningful, whether we know it or not.  It is the most important thing I learned in teaching.  Oh boy, did I learn this.

A past parent visited me at school this week.  Her boys are beyond college and doing well.  She wanted to stop by, give me a Peter Rabbit cookie jar, and say thank you.  Like the student alumni who stop by and cannot pinpoint what it is they remember, she was the same way.  And I know why.  It’s the hundred little things.

Do I remember everything I did with Adam?  No.  Does his Mom?  No.  But, we remember moments and feelings.  It isn’t the big things, it’s the little things that matter most.  Her note is lovely.

Andrea’s visit was the catalyst that prompted me to post my “Hundred Little Things.”  I wrote this some years ago, so much has been added since then.  Bottom line: It’s the little things, over and over again, that are the big things.

The Hundred Little Things

As a teacher, I have a way with children; sometimes I feel like the Pied Piper, young children seem to naturally gravitate to me. I can ‘read’ a young child; watching their eyes, listening to their words; the subtleties that children project are very honest. When I tell a story or read a book at school, children are often captivated, although spellbound is probably more accurate. “Jennie, tell the bat story!” You can see the anticipation in eager little eyes and transfixed bodies. Preschoolers move and wiggle, but not when I tell or read a story. Lunchtime at school is full of fifteen excited children, and that is when the stories flow. Children know that if a story starts with, “Once Upon a Time”, it is pretend. The Little Red Hen and Goldilocks and the Three Bears are ever popular. On the other hand, if a story starts with, “It Happened Like This”, they know the story is real, and something that happened with Jennie, their teacher. Oh boy! Those stories are beloved. Children beg to hear them, because they portray their teacher when she was a child, in the same situations that they can understand; being scared over a bat in her room, hating vegetables, going Trick-or-Treating at the scary next door neighbor’s house, and a birthday cake with the wrong frosting.

Believe me, it wasn’t always this way.

Early on in my preschool teaching, I interacted with children with the best of intentions, yet often struggled to feel that I had made a connection, much less a difference. Even though I was always a caring and kind teacher, there was a self imposed ‘you and me wall’. I was the teacher, and you were the student. Teaching meant teaching information, in a caring environment.

Yes, I was a good teacher, but I didn’t fully understand how important love was until that day, twenty years ago. It was naptime at school, late in the fall, the time of year when children and teachers were comfortable with each other. There I was, lying on my back, looking across the classroom. All the children were asleep, except Andrew, a child who was often distant and sometimes challenging. He was the boy I had not really connected with. He saw me, and I saw him. We both smiled, simultaneously, knowing everybody else was asleep.

At that moment, there was nobody else on the whole earth. It was just Andrew and me. He knew it and I knew it. This was deep, and forgiving, and enlightening. I understood; love has no preconceived agenda. It is ‘there’, regardless of circumstances. Most importantly, love usually isn’t met with a lot of fanfare. In fact, it is the little things that often express love. The intensity of that moment is still with me. It changed me, and I understood that love, on the purest and simplest level, is most important.

In education, I learned that if love comes first, then teaching becomes deeper, better, more focused, and more energized. The children learn because I have put them first. I had it backwards, carefully planning a curriculum and activities, and then fitting the children into those plans. Not that it was bad or didn’t work; it just was…well, lacking the passion that comes with love.

Oh, children know how a teacher really feels. So, thanks to Andrew, I started to change. First, lunchtime became a forum to learn about the children and really listen to them. I learned so many little things, like the names of pets and grandparents, what a big brother does, the color of a bike. These were little things, yet they became the building blocks. We often debated deep subjects, such as if a girl can marry a girl, or if people go to heaven when they die. Everyone’s opinion was valued.

The day that Kelly told us her dog, Bruno, had died; the class did not know what to say. I told her that my dog had died years ago, and I was very sad. Then, a child asked Kelly if she was sad. The following thirty minutes was spent with heartfelt children telling each other about grandparents and pets who had died, and all the feelings and questions that naturally follow. At that moment, lunch was far less important than what was happening, and could wait. The building blocks were working.

I started to use a tape recorder to “interview” children, as this not only helped me to get to know them, but also was a good tool for language development (and it was fun). Our curriculum at that time was France and learning about the old masters in art. Young children love to paint, and they were practicing being artists with real palettes. I was learning so much about them, why not have the children do an autobiography to accompany their work of art? And, why not have the children name their work of art, and call it a masterpiece?

The result was so profound that we had an art show at school, and then moved the art show to our local post office for the community to enjoy. What a success, and what a wonderful experience for the children. Our art show has since become a yearly event in the community. Again, the building blocks were growing, but now I began to realize that each block in itself was little. Did using a palette or holding a microphone make a difference? No. So, where did the passion and love (and there was passion and love!) come from? It was each block, over and over again, often hundreds of them, which made the difference. I started to call this phenomenon “The Hundred Little Things.”

Now, my teaching and curriculum had become child centered. From this point forward, I put the cart before the horse. Smart thing! That same year my husband asked me, out of the blue, why our children wanted to hear ‘I love you’ all the time. “It’s the hundred little things”, I told him. “It takes at least a hundred times for each little ‘I love you’ to really become meaningful”.

The next year my class went to the circus. Of course we decided to have our own circus performance at school for our families, and I let the children decide what they wanted to do. Again, a child-centered event eclipsed anything I could have planned. Over the next few years, music, math games, and science exploration exploded. Every child’s interest was a spark, and became a tool for learning. I had learned so much and transferred the children’s love into a great preschool experience. Little did I know that the best was yet to come.

I love museums. In Philadelphia I visited the National Liberty Museum and was thunderstruck by their Peace Portal. Instantly I knew this magnificent structure was something my classroom could recreate. My years of following the love of the children had allowed me to embrace my own love, and give it back to the children. Now the tables were turned, yet again. I brought the idea back to school, and the children loved it! They spent a large part of the school year designing a Peace Portal. Then, they wrote a Peace Poetry Book, and designed a Peace Quilt, which is in the Museum.

Suddenly, the power of love had gone beyond the classroom. The depth of this project was not only children’s building blocks, but my building blocks as well. Yes, I could give the same passion and love as well. Wow! A combination of the two means a deep understanding and enthusiasm on all parts. As such, the process and the product were wonderful. The following year, the children really wanted to sing “God Bless America”. Watching them sing amongst themselves, over and over, was a true ‘hundred little things’. Again, we worked together, under the umbrella of love, to bring the song to soldiers, to making a book, and to designing a quilt that hangs at the Fisher House in Boston.

Being a preschool teacher for many years has been a wonderful roller coaster of every emotion and of learning. When I first became a preschool teacher, teaching happened first. Thanks to Andrew, I know that love happens first, and then becomes the catalyst to develop deep relationships with children, and therefore a rich curriculum. The ‘hundred little things’ proves that to be true.

Pay attention, as love is there. You just need to see it. It can change your life. It changed mine.

Jennie

About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
This entry was posted in Early Education, Expressing words and feelings, Inspiration, preschool, reading aloud, Student alumni, Teaching young children and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

105 Responses to The Hundred Little Things

  1. beth says:

    I love, love this post, Jennie

  2. beetleypete says:

    That letter says it all. That must mean more to you than a flawless diamond, or your weight in gold.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  3. quiall says:

    What a wonderful post! And those children go out into the world and the Ripple Effect continues. When people talk about “the Big Picture’ they forget that it is made up of millions of tiny pictures all created by us.

  4. Dan Antion says:

    This is such a great post, Jennie. For teachers, parents, husbands and wives, even stangers you just happen to meet – it’s all the little things that matter.

  5. Oh Jennie…this one got to me.

  6. A beautiful post, Jennie. Thanks for sharing your own personal growth experience with us.

  7. Sue Vincent says:

    Reblogged this on Sue Vincent's Daily Echo and commented:
    A wonderfully warm post from Jennie.

  8. Sue Vincent says:

    A lovely post, Jennie. Only one ‘sour’ note… it reminded me of when, aged about seven, our teacher asked us to write an autobiography. My mother was livid and made me write it…I learned a lot about my family I would rather not have learned at that age and the scars lingered for a long time. I hadn’t thought about it in years, till I read this… and, both for good and bad, shows just how profound an effect those early years of teaching can be for a child.

  9. How wonderful, a lump in my throat reading this. Thank you for sharing

  10. willowdot21 says:

    A beautiful post and it just shows how much we owe good teachers 💜

  11. Jennie, I found you through Sue sharing this. I was spellbound as I read and my heart is full. What a lovely post. Thank you for sharing. It is the little things. ❤️

  12. Beautiful and heartwarming, Jennie. What a lovely post.

  13. Anyone would be lucky to have their kids in your class, Jennie. Too bad there’s only one of you.

  14. Darlene says:

    It’s the little things that mean a lot! You have made such a huge difference in the lives of the children in your classroom at such a crucial time in their lives. How nice that this has been acknowledged. xo

    • Jennie says:

      Yes, all those little things mean far more than we realize. Thank you so much, Darlene! I feel so lucky, with a huge sense of responsibility. I hope readers can see that what they do has a big impact on others.

  15. calmkate says:

    and those are the teachers we love best … those that opened their heart to us! No matter the intelligence or knowledge unless the heart is open the learning is stilted …

  16. petespringerauthor says:

    I wish I could like this post ten times, Jennie, because it teaches us all the most critical quality in all teachers—you must first create a safe and loving environment. When kids know they are loved and respected, they will learn. I’m sure you’ve seen the TED Talk from Rita Pierson, who says, “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.”

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you so much, Pete. Yes, love and respect first, then you can teach. It’s not easy to do that when you’re a new teacher. I learned along the way, and I’m sure you did too. I do not know that TED Talk! Guess what I’ll be watching this weekend!

  17. petespringerauthor says:

    Reblogged this on Pete Springer and commented:
    I am honored to be friends with preschool teacher, Jennie Fitzkee. If ever you have a bad day teaching and question whether what you are doing is worthwhile, I implore you to read her beautiful post.

  18. My first thought after reading your post was that all beginning teachers would benefit from reading it. However, what you learned as a teacher through experience is so profound, I’m wondering if new teachers need to learn it through experience themselves. Perhaps the message of this post is to be open to letting our experience teach us what we need to do?

  19. Dear Jennie,

    I must share The Hundred Little Things”! Of course, LOVE is what it’s all about and children teach us so much… Each of the amazing children that I was privileged to teach (grades 4 & 5 + multi-age 6, 7 & 8 ESL students) taught me that lesson again and again, day by day, moment by moment. The wonderful projects in your post remind me of the love projects in our classrooms and among our students. To me, every classroom should be centered on LOVE, on literature and on each amazing child. For me, teaching was a second career and one of the greatest gifts I ever received.

    Though now retired, I continue to visit classrooms, libraries, home school groups etc. in my area and bask in the LOVE that surrounds me.

    Thanks for sharing the LOVE!

    Blessings,
    Bette

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you for your beautiful words, Bette. I’m glad you enjoyed reading about my journey. Yes, teaching should be centered on love and literature. Then, the amazing child can bloom and grow. I’m glad you were able to experience the joy of teaching children. Best to you, Bette. ❤️

  20. Oh, this is such an uplifting and inspiring post, Jennie! All the children who have had you for their teacher and the current ones, and future ones are so lucky/blessed to have you, and we are for the lesson you pass on to us too.

  21. A wonderful post, Jennie! Thank you for sharing this uplifting information. Michael

  22. Jim Borden says:

    what a wonderful post! your students were so lucky to have you as a teacher.

  23. A very honest and meaningful post, Jennie. I do think some people are better at relating to children than others, maybe they have an innate understanding of this.

  24. L. Marie says:

    Everyone who teaches needs to read this post. What a difference you have made in the lives of children, Jennie!

  25. frenchc1955 says:

    Jennie, this post is extraordinary! I want to shout to the world what a wonderful teacher you are and that others should follow your lead!

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you so very much, Charles. If I had to pick one piece of writing that truly depicts me and my teaching, from the depths of heart and soul, this is it. You knew it and felt it, and that in itself is a great thing to me.

      There is one other post that does the same thing, but it is strictly focused on reading aloud (the most important thing I do) and starts with my first day of teaching. I should repost it.

  26. frenchc1955 says:

    Reblogged this on charles french words reading and writing and commented:
    Here is an extraordinary post on teaching from that excellent teacher, Jennie!

  27. Elizabeth says:

    As if you needed neurobiology to back you up after years of seeing the results, it does back you up! I just finished reading “The Power of Showing Up” by Dan Siegel, premier researcher on connection. It validates so much that we learned from teaching. A great read for parents too.

  28. srbottch says:

    Wonderful story, Jennie. And I bet the live. Ones back to you, in spades.

  29. abbiosbiston says:

    My mum was a pre-school teacher for many years and she too has a Pied Piper way with children. They absolutely gravitate to her. I wonder if she went through a similar process.

  30. This is a beautiful article, Jennie. You’re so right about all the little things coming together to make a difference in lives. Sharing this. Hugs on the wing.

  31. Dearest Jennie…. I am sat typing this through a stream of tears… I need say no more, but that you dear friend make a difference in so many lives and its all about those smallest things… YOU have also made a difference with those small things to hundreds of children’s lives, who as adults are most probably a hundred times better for having had you as their teacher.. 🙂 💙😘🙏

  32. It is a hundred little things! All the things that happen to you that you grow from and then give back even more to the children. You are so right, love comes ahead of head learning. Children are more receptive to learning when they know they are valued. You write the most beautiful and profound posts.

  33. Jennie, I have not been dealing with much of my e-mail of late, for I am swamped with paperwork related to the hubster’s health issues, appts. at doctors, and advocating for both of us and others too with issues that we all deal with as seniors and sometimes before that. I absolutely LOVED your post as it is so true.

    One of my degrees is in Criminal justice. I was going to be a mentor/advocate for juvenile delinquents and I had experience with them previously when I privately taught illiterate adults and also as a substitute in school. From all my experience and reading, one of the things that consistently shows up with illiterate adults and criminals is that hardly any of them have ever had the 100 things, or for that matter, any kind or childlife that is so important to their growth and development. it is a truly sad thing that so many adults who had all that potential inside when they were tiny children have nothing in their lives to guide them forward. Most of the young people I have tutored have never even experienced things that we take for granted – Halloween, Christmas, etc. and they were always the ones who came to school without lunches (even as teens in high school) – I made sure all my charges had something to eat when they were in school, and in one week, attitudes and abilities changed tremendously because someone took a chance on them and truly cared about their well-being. I remember that some students came to my classroom after they ate their lunches and I would sit and read stories to them from books for older children. They would sit quietly listening and they were reluctant to leave when the bell rang.

    Yes, we need teachers desperately who take the time to really care for the children in their charge. They may not realize that they are perhaps the ONLY chance children have to get the grounds for learning and succeeding in life. And to me, one of the worst things the school districts have done is to tell teachers we cannot celebrate any holidays such as Christmas or Easter because there are others in the classroom who may not believe in those things. Why not have everyone in class share their experiences in life with things like holidays and for those who have never had one, to allow them to express what they would do if they were to celebrate a particular holiday. Would they cook special foods? Make special art? Wear special clothes? I think the schools need to loosen up and allow the teachers the chance to offer all the students more experiences that can enrich their lives. Even if the parents are atheists, giving the children the ability to express THEIR beliefs about things and acknowledge them, while at the same time, allowing them to experience the beliefs of many so that they can make perhaps more good learned choices as adults. There may well be a time in the life of a young adult that the door to learning the one hundred things closes and with it, the person’s desire to change. So sad and so unnecessary. What could a little loving care and one hundred things do for a human being? Thank you again for having been there for so many young ones. Keep on doing what you have always done so well. The world is counting on you.

    • Jennie says:

      You ‘get it’, Anne! If only all parents and teachers did… children would have a strong start and the world would be a different place. The hundred little things have to given to children, and it’s so simple and important. You have lived through children who are deprived of this, while I have lived to be the teacher who makes sure children are filled with the hundred little things. I am lucky, and you are an absolute wonder. Thank you, Anne. Best to you and your husband.

  34. willedare says:

    What a beautiful and moving post, Jennie! I feel reassured and inspired and touched by your writing AND by the ideas/wisdom you share in your writing. Hurrah for love and respect leading the way whenever possible! Hurrah for love permeating the experience of learning and teaching! And hurrah to you for sharing what you have learned with the rest of us!

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you so much, Will! This one was straight from the heart, with a need to shout out to the world how important all the little things are. They are the root of my teaching and who I am. I’m so glad you felt inspired. That means a lot. Your words are beautiful.

  35. This is beautiful! Teaching is relationships.

  36. equipsblog says:

    This was a lovely, moving post with so many simple and understandable examples, you taught us all how to find and use the Hundred LIttle Things.

  37. equipsblog says:

    Reblogged this on e-Quips and commented:
    I came across this helpful and heartfelt blogpost that aptly illustrates that it is the hundred little things that add up to real love and change. Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy sharing it with you.

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