Monday, October 07, 2013


two years ago

Two years ago, when Genevieve was newly five and had just begun kindergarten, she began "teaching her class": her solo version of playing school. She had an imaginary class of young children (kindergartners? it wasn't clear then, but this is what she says now).

From the very start, she was extremely involved and detailed regarding her class. She kept lists of the students' names: six or seven children at first, all with fairly typical names like Rachel, Alex, Kristy, Olive, and Oliver--and then there was one child named Unit.

Sometimes Genevieve would teach her class for hours, several days in a row; and then at other times it would be forgotten for days or weeks at a time. Out of the blue one day she'd say, "I need to go teach my class," or I'd hear talking in the other room and would find her with a stack of books, reading a page and then holding the book out open by her side, showing the picture to an imaginary audience, and she'd explain, "I'm reading to my class." It amazed me how absorbed she could get when playing alone like this, and how long she would do it at any one time. Sometimes I'd hear the teaching go on and on, from subject to subject, from lessons to lunch to recess and beyond.

Over time things became more complex. New students came, and the class group grew to twelve. Vivi asked me for old empty file folders, and she labelled each one and called them her students' "take-home folders." She made each child a "book box" and put "just-right books" in each one, at the appropriate level for the reader in question. Sometimes, if we were going on an errand or other outing, the class would come along as a field trip. Sometimes I'd hear her disciplining Unit, who was a handful.

Now it is two years later, and Genevieve still has her class. She has added last names to her students' folders, so now there is Alex Nemmel and Olive Seshr and Lily Walker and Unit Monro.

She tells me Unit has dyslexia, and often needs extra help. (Julia has taken on the job of teaching assistant, and sometimes takes Unit aside for one-on-one lessons.) She has made staff badges for Julia and herself, to wear around their necks when they are at "school." She has created piles and piles of small homemade picture books for "Book-in-a-Bag," stapled and filled with easy plots and penciled illustrations.

The greatest boon for Genevieve and her students was when, earlier this fall, she spied a huge unfolded sheet of cardboard in the garage from something Christopher had acquired, and begged me to carry it upstairs to the playroom. She clearly had a vision, and nothing would stop her from realizing it.

"I need it to make my school," she told me urgently. She used the cardboard as walls, and made herself an actual classroom (which, as you can guess, has become a permanent feature of our square footage).

There are "carpet squares" for the children to sit on. There is a toy corner. There is a clock, and a posted sign of guidelines for "how to pick a just-right book," and one that outlines the school values. (Julia helped with these.)

There is even a chart for monitoring Unit's behavior. He's still a handful.

How long will Genevieve's class exist? I can't imagine. But I know, and I feel a pang when I think of it, that one day when something reminds us, we'll suddenly exclaim to each other, "Oh my gosh, remember when Genevieve had her class? Remember how it went on for years? Remember Unit Monro??"

Life rolls on.

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