Children stick with me long after they have left my preschool class. Perhaps it’s because I have always stuck with them and supported them.
Noah, my former preschooler, was here visiting this past weekend, along with his parents. He is headed to Iceland, alone, before going to graduate school. He’s excited. He’s facing fear and excitement of the unknown. We had a chance to talk alone.
Noah’s story begins with his dad, a great Navy guy. In our early morning school drop-off conversations (the best time to connect with parents), Rick the dad realized that he and Hubby must have been in Navy radio contact with each other. Rick was a destroyer ship guy who connected with the Navy jet flyers, like Hubby. Our conversation went something like this:
“Rick, you were in the Navy? Did you fly?”
“No, I was on the best Navy ship, a destroyer.”
“I thought a carrier was the best ship.”
I smiled. He looked at me crooked. “You know Navy ships?”
“Well, my husband was in the Navy. He flew off of carriers.”
“Was he a pilot?”
“No. He was a RIO.”
And then I told him he flew the F-4 Phantom. I thought Rick was going to have a heart attack. He was transported back in time. We connected.
Stick with me, here.
I took my class to the Shriner’s Circus. Noah’s older sister Emma was in my class.
Before the circus performance the lights went out and a big American flag was lowered. I had no idea that would happen, but no worries, I knew exactly what to do- stand tall and proud, put my hand over my heart, and sing our National Anthem. Everybody knows that… so I thought. I looked around and saw parents chatting away and children playing. I was horrified! I frantically dashed to each child, pulling off their ball caps and putting their little hands over their hearts. I’m sure I looked like a crazy person. Yes I was, because this was awful.
It never occurred to me that people wouldn’t know what to do when singing “The Star Spangled Banner”. My ‘doesn’t-everybody-know-that’ frame of mind switched gears. This was a teaching moment looking at me right in the face. Emma to the rescue! She was the child who knew what to do and showed pride, even at the tender age of four.
Back at school, Emma showed the other children how to sing and how to stand. It was a start, but not nearly enough. I asked the children, “What is a star spangled banner?” No one knew. How can they learn to sing with pride if they have no idea what they’re singing for? They needed the backstory, and that is where my teaching took off: emergent curriculum at its best.
Emma’s Dad, Rick, came to school to help the children learn about the American flag. We learned about Francis Scott Key watching the flag during battle to see who was winning. We began to sing other patriotic songs. To this day, “God Bless America” and “This Land is Your Land” are classroom favorites. Some years ago Milly and the children made a God Bless America quilt that hangs in the Boston Fisher House. Thank you, Emma, for starting the ball of Patriotism rolling, many years ago.
And now Noah becomes my student.
Noah was the shy one. He had difficulty saying goodby to Mom and Dad when he arrived at school. All the hugs and reassurances in the world did little to help Noah. To make matters worse, he was not alone. Another little boy had the same struggle, and the two of them together often ignited many tears.
One day I pulled out my Autoharp. After all, music and singing are a universal pathway to the heart. In the words of Hans Christian Anderson, “where words fail, music speaks”. I needed words, as I was failing Noah. No, I needed music. And, it worked! The tears turned to sniffles, and then they stopped. Noah was fascinated with a real musical instrument. We sang and sang, and then we sang some more. The Autoharp became part of our daily routine. Noah was also curious how the strings actually worked. We discovered high and low sounds, and then we learned about vibration. A tuning fork and a dish of water became a favorite science experiment, especially with Noah.
The years rolled on. I saw Noah and his family every summer at our pool. Keeping in touch was wonderful. Noah’s interest in music became a big deal. He was part of a band, and he wanted to do his high school community service work in my class. Thank you, Noah, for bringing music into my classroom. I’m so glad it became a part of your life.
The college years arrived, and as much as Noah loved music (and still does), he was drawn to teaching audiology or speech. I could tell he had found his avenue, and it had to do with teaching children. I wanted to burst with pride and excitement.
Last weekend we had our chance to talk alone. In the middle of the deep conversation about life, Rick had to pass by, and he squeezed my shoulder. No words needed.
I started the conversation.
“Noah, I’m so proud of you. When I graduated from college I was scared. You’re headed off to Iceland – alone! How do you feel?”
“I’m excited! My buddy told me about Iceland, then backed out of the trip. I decided I still wanted to go. I can tour Europe when I’m older and have the money. Right now, I want to go to Iceland.”
And then Noah said the words I will never forget:
“I need to see myself in this world.”
My goodness, I need to carve those words into wood.
The evening rolled on. Storytelling was a highlight. I reminded Noah that he told the entire preschool class the best ship in the Navy is a destroyer.
Noah, you will see yourself in this world, and you will make a difference.