“Miss Lilli! Miss Lilli!”
I entered the small classroom at the Mosqueda Center to this cheer twice a week. Momentarily I was back in Fiji, hearing the excited voices of those children and the love and cultural exchange we’d shared. Instead I found myself at Reading and Beyond, an after-school literacy-and-more program for elementary students of Fresno. I volunteered with this community benefit organization for my Child and Family Studies service-learning class. My job as a volunteer was to support a hired tutor as she taught a small group of students. Little did I know a simple requirement for a service-learning course would turn into a semester plus a summer of fun!
I’d arrive clad in my painfully bright yellow t-shirt, which boldly stated, “Reading and Beyond,” and on the back, “Empowering children and families to achieve productive, self-reliant lives.”
“Do the fish!” they’d say, remembering my first day’s focus on a book about undersea life. I started making fish faces, and my group was super impressed, so we all perfected our fish look. (I make a pretty accurate fish face, and also a shockingly accurate duck sound, but that’s a story for another day). I had fun like a big kid; the little ones followed what I did. Together, learning to read was fun and exciting! I modeled respect to the tutor and enthusiasm for the tasks at hand, so they did too.
In my literacy group were children who had fallen far behind in their reading levels, and others who were excelling students. Some spoke hardly any English. Others were fluently bilingual. It was incredible to see the group members assisting each other and growing together, despite such diversity. All of them were equally squirrely and excited after a long day at school, and I loved each one. During summer, the students would be served free lunch, then complete a rotation of literacy, fitness, and enrichment (essentially arts and crafts). I was amazed at the gains they made, even in a short time.
I learned so much from my Reading and Beyond experience, and I do hope that the children I worked with learned as well. I gained a lot of knowledge about working with children in particular, and about myself:
- Kids can’t handle too many instructions at once. Perfecting effective teaching and classroom management strategies are now on my to-do list and will prepare me for my future as a Speech-Language Pathologist.
- Praise means the world to children. You can see them glowing after you give them a compliment or commend them on a job well done. Even something as simple as remembering their name can excite them!
- Likewise, children have hearts of gold. I can’t tell you how many times I heard, “Teacher, you’re pretty!” or “You’re fun!” Grown-ups don’t uplift one another as much as they should.
- Competition excites some, but it can shut other kids down. Children lose motivation and interest in activities in which they feel they can’t succeed. So, I made a point to rub in the teamwork aspect. I learned to be the collaboration-promoter and enthusiastic cheerleader, especially at sports time.
- Helping children overcome unfavorable behavior is pretty rewarding. For one child who refused to participate, I hand-over-hand led him in doing the task at hand: a simple art project. I just wanted him to follow directions. Afterwards, I expected him to hate me for all eternity. But instead we became friends and he respected me. That was very eye-opening.
On my last day, students gathered ’round to take a fun picture. I’ll never forget those giggles and smiles! As I said goodbye, they each flocked give me a hug; it was so special.
As a volunteer, I felt valued. My fellow volunteers and I saw the children thriving with more one-on-one attention than a staff-only environment could provide. Also, kids will teach you a thing or two!
In summary, thanks for reading,
now go volunteer with kids and really make a difference!
Have you served children before? Has a child ever taught you an important lesson? How will you serve the next generation?