A few months ago, I was approached by two of my wonderful teachers, Ehud and Daynee, to assist one of them in a class. I had to check what the work schedule was like and everything, but it turned out that I would totally have the time.
Once I got back to them, I was told it was to help teach preschoolers about dance.
Kids?? Oh no! I am terrible with kids. I have so many nieces and nephews that I have a poor relationship with, how am I going to be able to do this?
So when Thursday rolled around, I dragged myself out of bed to assist my dance teacher with a class of preschoolers.
Upon arrival at the Head Start Preschool in San Jose, I immediately got the “new kid” syndrome. I think at one point or another, everyone has had this feeling. It’s the one where you become apprehensive and anxious because you don’t know anyone or where anything is in the place… Yeah, that feeling.
When I finally found Ehud, I was told that we had to have the class outside because the usual room was being used for testing for the school across the parking lot. I began setting up per Ehud’s instruction and when I was done, he took me through the classroom and I got to meet this energetic, very loud group of children, who were so cheerful (for the most part) and excitable. There were two or three shy kids that wouldn’t say hi to me. Just as I think I’ve seen all the little ones, Ehud tells me that we have to go and meet the others. When I ask him how many more there were, he said that there were about another 20. “Sure is a big class.” I joke.
Then comes the news that it was three classes.
My mind was trying to figure out how this was going to work. I thought I would just be volunteering for an hour or so. But three classes couldn’t only be an hour so this was a puzzle for me. I still had all my other normal day off errands to run. Then the anxiety begins to build.
We take the first class outside and begin all the things that Ehud does with them. My role is basically to demonstrate what Ehud would like for the children to do. Somehow in the middle of the class, it becomes less like “assisting” Ehud and more like playing with the kids. I rolled around on the wet ground with them. I jumped like a rabbit and a kangaroo, then watched them do the same. It was just fun. By the end of the class, the kids were okay with playing with the “new kid.” When the first class was over and the teacher rounded them up, they turned and said “Bye, Jery!”
That’s when I realized how important this volunteer gig would be. The next two classes were just as fun, and flew by. One of the aides was even dancing her own little style off to the side. She said it was a great way to exercise for the day.
As the Thursdays came and went, these little people welcomed me into their school shared with me laughs and stories about things like what they dressed up as on Halloween, who their favorite dancer was, which dish was their favorite food at Thanksgiving dinner, and the most important, what they want for Christmas. All these bright little eyes wide with excitement as they chatter away. I can’t help but to smile and just enjoy these moments. It’s so different than my first Thursday with them.
The teachers and their aides were so helpful and willing to help these kids do what Ehud wanted them to do either by translating or speaking to them on a one on one level. The teachers also had the tough job of keeping the kids focused while the music needed to be changed or as we had to pass out props. They smiled as they watched their students laughing and smiling while dancing around.
Not every day was a good one. As kids tend to have bad days, I’ve had a chance to witness a few and see the nurturing way the teachers cared for them, only to see them bounce back by the end of the class where we played a game called “Freeze Dance.” Freeze Dance is simply when music plays and everyone dances but once it stops we have to as well, just like “a frozen chicken” as Ehud would say. The kids would all laugh when he said that.
Looking back at the last couple of months, I see how this has changed them. For example, there is a sweet little boy named Nhat. He doesn’t speak much english and has a small mobility problem. When I first started, I noticed that he didn’t really move as much as the others. He would just move his arms while standing in place. Watching him now, he slowly runs with the rest of his class screaming with delight. Somehow, the “Freeze Dance” game seems to become a time for the group to run laps around the room by the end of the song and Nhat now joins in the madness rather than just walking off to the side. I try to be as respectful to them the exact same way I am with adults and I don’t know if that is why, but at the end of class often times I am surrounded by little arms that are reaching for hugs.
As I write this I feel like I understand children a little better. At the same time, it makes me feel bad about the relationships I have with the little ones in my family. It certainly makes me want to be just as willing to play with them as I do with Ehud’s little dancers.
While I have had a blast assisting, I would like to see some things happen over the course of the spring session that just may help the outreach program grow. I would love to get the kids to learn more of the true dance terminology and steps. I think it would have a great impact on them learning to focus on the class and help them to learn routines more quickly. Of course the additional upside to that would be maybe the kids would want to take classes in a studio. I feel like sometimes the energy that they have would get a little out of control, so maybe start the class off with a short meditation. I’ve seen the effects of it when Ehud would do it at the end; they were much quieter and calmer after. Follow that with a little bit of stretching then dancing then a wacky game at the end and that should mellow them out for an hour or so I would imagine.
In any case, I’ve been so lucky to get to meet and hang out with these little people on Thursdays and it reminds me that you are never to old to play. So to them I say “Thank You.”