This was a big one for me, because I have long suspected that I am not good with children other than my own. (In fact perhaps not even with my own! But they are rather stuck with it.)
My morning routine is still sufficiently insane that by the time I get to school I am heartily relieved to offload my own 3 children – so acquiring 27 more at that point is really about the last thing on my mind.
But for the sake of the 100 things, I made an offer to school a couple of weeks ago, and thus was booked to assist in Class R on a Thursday morning. ‘Sit in a quiet room and help the children change their books’ she had said. It sounded like a manageable brief.
But argh!! I had not factored in World Book Day. I arrived with my troops (late, chaotically, and in somewhat tenuous costumes – one bear, one Tinkerbell, and one black cat); to find the playground swarming with excitable pirates, Rapunzels, Snow Whites, witches, dinosaurs, crocodiles, tigers and the occasional uniformed child whose parent had clearly forgotten. It would, the class teacher admitted apologetically, be something of an unusual day. She offered me the option of starting my help sessions next week instead, but a little face crumpled beneath the bear head, and I realised I would have to see it through. If only I’d come in costume myself! Dammit.
The classes were all mixed up; the register was conducted by book character names, so I hadn’t the least idea who most of the children were. But they were all quite charming, and well behaved, and most excited to have me there, which was gratifying. Before many minutes had passed I was supervising the creation of oil pastel-crayon self-portraits, drawn in a mirror frame, (inspired by the tale of Snow White). The children were to study every detail of their own visage and copy it exactly as they saw it, not as they imagined it to be. They were to reproduce their actual skin colour, actual eye shape, and any odd features that might be going on, on account of their costumes.
And so they began faithfully replicating. Nostrils were writ large and pig-like. Eye lashes were lustrous. Spiderman was cursing his complicatedly webbed face. One girl was carefully selecting the right shade of red for a big zit on her chin. Kids with glasses, or scars, or different pigmentation were all happily studying themselves and copying from life without self-consciousness. It was a delight! Nobody cried, nobody wet themselves, nobody hit me. Things have moved on immeasurably since I last helped out at preschool!
I was promoted to the glitter table, where the mirror frames were embellished. 2 glue sticks, 8 children, and no fighting! School must be operating in some sort of magical parallel dimension; this would be an unimaginable scene in my house.
Glittering concluded; my characters trooped off to study The Enormous Turnip. A fresh assortment came in, and I settled to hear Snow White again. More mirrors, more pastels, more glitter. When break time came I slunk off. But it was a very worthwhile morning, and I shall have no qualms about going back next week. Changing their books should be easy now!