“Miss Kelly, Alyssa chewed with her mouth open and that’s in bad manners.”
“Miss Kelly, I had an accident on the carpet.”
“Miss Kelly will you please, please, please sit next to me at snack??”
Miss Kelly. Miss Kelly. Miss Kelly. That was who I was to a group of 50 kids this summer - someone between an authority figure (hence the Miss), and a friend. I worked as an intern at Hephzibah Day Care, a summer camp in Oak Park, Illinois. The camp was open to children from 1st to 6th grade, and I was assigned to work with the youngest age group; the first and second graders. I was excited to work with this age group. The kids were adorable and I figured that it couldn’t be all that hard; after all, they were only six. How difficult could they really be to keep entertained and under control?
I got my first reality check ten minutes in, on day one. For the first hour of camp, the kids either had free play outside on the playground or in one of the classrooms before snack. As I stood outside watching the kids run around the playground, two adorable little girls came up to me. One of them looked at me with big, blue eyes and said:
“SHE keeps following me around and I DON’T want to play with her. Tell her to go away!”
I was taken aback. These girls had only just finished kindergarten, wasn’t it a few more years before they got to the “mean girls” stage? Granted, I hadn’t been a first grader in quite some time, but I had hoped, naively I suppose, that the kids in my group were too young and innocent to exclude each other.
In fact, the next seven weeks were one huge reality check for me. At the start of camp, I had thought I would have to give time outs once in a while; in reality, I gave about five time outs on a good day. I also thought that one time out would be sufficient in teaching kids their lesson. I had been a relatively shy, eagar-to-please child in elementary school, and I’m pretty sure being put in time out would have given me a nervous break down, and yet, there were kids who averaged three time outs a day! The worst when was I had to pull two girls aside (who I had to separate earlier that day because they were being so mean to each other) and talk to them about following the rules. Then, I looked up and saw two of the boys in my group in a fistfight. A fistfight. In first grade.
I also never realized how often, and with such gusto, little children told on each other. I had assumed that kids of all age groups followed the “being a tattle tale isn’t cool” mantra. And while I certainly did not want a kid to feel like he or she couldn’t talk to me if there was a problem, I never expected to hear some of the “tattlings” that came out of these kids’ mouths. Two of my favorites were:
“Miss Kelly, she just said the W word!” For those of you who don't know, The W word is “weird”. I had to assure the boy who told me this that it was okay to whisper what it was in my ear.
“Miss Kelly, Alan said I don’t exist!”
Yeah, these kids were tough. They hit, they screamed, they cried. They talked back to you multiple times a day. They made mess after mess. One would lure you in by asking if they could “do your hair” and then three more would swarm around you and begin to tug as hard as they possibly could on your already not so thick locks. There were quite a few days where I would sit staring at the clock as the kids had end of the day free play, waiting for it to hit 4:30 so I could rush home.
But I would be remise if I did not mention the good times, and they far outweighed the bad. On that very first day when those two little girls came up to me in the playground to test my patience, another little girl walked up to me later and told me she liked my polka dots (she didn’t know the word for freckles). On his birthday, one little boy asked me if I liked cupcakes, and when I said yes, he grinned and said, “Then I’m gonna make sure you get a big one!”
For the last few weeks of camp I had stitches, and I had explained to the kids that I couldn’t get splashed at the pool. One of the boys in my group swam up to me as I sat on the edge of the pool and said, “Miss Kelly, you can’t sit there, you’ll get splashed!” He then proceeded to scold the girl who had splashed near me. And there was nothing like being absent for only half a day for a doctors appointment and having some of the kids run up to you as if you’ve come home from war and shout: “I missed you Miss Kelly!”
Because while they certainly did hit, scream, and cry, these kids were also adorable, sweet, and they totally stole my heart this summer. I was worn out by the last day of camp, and all I could think about was the extra sleep I would get for the last few weeks of summer. But three days into my “freedom” I realized that I really, truly, missed a lot of those kids. I even have some of the pictures they drew for me hanging up in my dorm, as a little reminder of the summer.
If you ever get the chance to work with children, do it. They’re a handful, but you will gain great patience, as well as great respect for anyone who wants to work in elementary education. And while you might not have stories of wild summer nights (if you end up like me, you’ll have to be up by 7:15am five days a week), you’ll have plenty of hilarious tales that will keep your friends, and you, laughing throughout the school year.