I walk briskly to the building. I’m not late, but for this appointment I like to be early. I buzz at the glass double doors, decorated with announcements and donation requests.
“Name, please?” crackles from the intercom on the right, and I comply.
The door buzzes, and I enter, immediately ambushed by the smells. Sweat, youth, the aging building, cafeteria lunch.
I sign in at the office, chat with the secretary for a moment, and slap on a visitor sticker emblazoned with a red apple. I say “Hi,” to the second grader sitting glumly in a chair, legs swinging, and head to my son’s combined kindergarten/first grade classroom. I’m here to volunteer, my favorite hour of the week, and I want to get there.
When I arrive at the door, my boy’s teacher is reading a story, as she does most every day after snack time. She is leaning forward in her big rocking chair, her long blond hair swinging as she reads expressively. The kids are all on the floor facing her, most sitting criss-cross applesauce, hands nicely in their laps, a few wiggling in the way children’s bodies sometimes must, a sea of sensible footwear and bright cotton clothing, topped with hair bows and cowlicks.
I wave a quiet hello to the paraeducator who is wiping down the tables, ridding the work surfaces from any remaining snack crumbs, and I settle my adult bottom into a tiny chair to observe the rest of story time.
My attempts at a stealth entry are thwarted by one of the fidgeters, and she exclaims, “Hey, Graham! Your mom’s here!”
All of the little heads turn my way, and the story stops. Shy finger wiggles, exuberant waves, and loud hellos are thrown my way, and a wide, slow smile, followed by a blown kiss come from my boy.
Graham’s teacher resumes the story, and the heads turn back to her, focused once again. She uses funny voices, stops to ask questions, and redirects the conversation when one girl shares how her mom has a dress that looks like a parallelogram.
Soon, the story is over, and it is time for Read to Self. The kids grab their book bins, and settle into a spot on the rug, in a chair, or at their table. I take the opportunity to give my son a hug, and am happy he still kisses me in front of his friends.
I take one child, book bin in her arms, into the hall so she can read to me. She chooses two books, and I listen as she reads. Some children choose books they are very comfortable with, while others pick new ones, confident that together, we can tackle any unfamiliar words. Many stories are about dogs and cats, a favorite theme for both boys and girls, but some are about ballet, frogs, bikes, and hurricanes.
One by one, they shuffle out to read to me, an adorable train with my favorite kindergartner as the caboose.
I adore my time with these five to seven-year-olds. Reading is my passion, and to be able to witness the emerging skills from early readers on a weekly basis is magical. I love their tiny voices, the finger that traces the lines on the page, the hesitation before vocally putting together the letters to form a previously unread word, and the smile on their faces when I remember what books we read the previous week.
I am thankful that I am able to spend time in my son’s classroom. I am thankful for a teacher who welcomes me, allows me to observe quietly, and seamlessly redirects her charges when I distract them. I hope I can remember this snapshot in time: the hope and promise of the earliest elementary years, the energy and kindness of a young teacher, and the enthusiasm of a mother delighting in a simple form of volunteerism.