The years teach much which the days never knew. Ralph Waldo Emerson
We are half way through another year.
The children know their numbers and most of their sounds.
We can build from here.
We can begin to add numbers
We can turn words into sentences
Some will begin to write real stories.
I like the halfway point of the Kindergarten year. The parents of the children are like friends who have partnered with me for something great, the development of their child. There is lovely trust and shared commitment. There is laughter and acknowledgement of the idiosyncrasies of their child. The intrinsic value of each child’s worth is incomprehensible. This is what I seek to discover and draw out and develop.
Jesus taught the value of a single human life through the parable of the lost sheep. He said to take care of the safety of the ninety-nine and then to look for the one. Sometimes people don’t go missing literally. Sometimes they just lose their way. Its like this with the children in my maths class, the ones who struggle the most. It’s my job to help them find meaning. I love that they are too small to feel embarrassed or self-conscious, so they freely raise their hand and say ‘I don’t get it!’ I work with them until they do. Like them, it feels like I have my hand up a lot, these days. I’m asking God the same question, I don’t get it either so I’m asking Him to help me see.
In early addition we build on the facts the children know. We have spent the year so far helping the children recognise the numerals and dot patterns to match the number words they know how to recite. We’ve done this through domino games and matching and repetition. After six months they know the basics. Its not much, we have made little progress really but the foundation is important so we do things in fairy sized steps, always going backwards to revise the initial concept before we move on.
This week, while the leadership of our nation changed hands I was teaching Number. It seems so insignificant in so many ways. The country had stopped to study the media and I sat with 20 children, a set of counters and tens frames. We start by revising. I hold up a number that they should know by now. The number four for example, drawn in a pattern they should recognise. “What is this number?” I ask them. Some of them can tell me now just by looking, others need to come close and count the individual dots. I tell them to keep the number in their heads so we can add another number. The number we add at this stage will only be a 1 or a 2. It’s called the ‘Think Big, Count Small’ strategy. You start with the biggest number first, which in this case is 4 and then you think big and you count the small number to see what number you can create when you add.
“You can do this.” I tell them.
“How many is 4 and 1?” I ask
Some children want to start counting the first dot on the 4 domino. ‘No,’ I say, ‘You know that is four, you can start from what you know and add.’ This is a hard concept for them to get. They think that counting means going back to the beginning. They stare at me wishing they didn’t have to try.
I know how they feel. I feel the same way when I am in the doctor’s office listening to yet another diagnosis. I feel like I just came to terms with Leukaemia, a Bone Marrow Transplant, thyroiditis and toenails infected with MRSA. I don’t want to get my head around anything else going wrong, to hear that there is another hard concept to endure or to learn another strategy to deal with something that is already unbearably hard.
I try to make it concrete in the children’s minds.
‘Let’s try it with counters. You will see that it is easy.’
They rock and spin while they wait to be given their pieces, they complain because they wanted a different colour. I wait. I try to be patient. I model what I want them to see. I show them, as many ways as I think might be necessary for them to get it. I don’t want to send them to the table with their textbook to do it on their own, ill equipped, so they’ll fail.
I am grateful for the head nurse who first took care of us at RNSH when Sam was diagnosed with cancer. She sat with me and told me the little things. She gave me the first protocol for the first round of treatment. She told me to get leave from work for one term. She helped me enter the dates for all the chemotherapy into my diary, she explained that we would need to stop every now and again to let Sam’s blood counts recover but when they did we would continue and that we would make it. In her thick Scottish accent she told me, “you will be okay.” She gave me strength to believe that she was right. I think of her often. She knew that there would be much more for me to get my head around after that first protocol but she was wise not to tell me. You can’t do anything when you are overwhelmed.
I have discovered that when I am sinking its because I’ve got my eyes on the wrong outcome, I need to step backwards, I need to remember what I already know and give God all the bits I don’t get. Like the children I give the counters back. I put them in his hands, I pass him my ten’s frame and I ask him to help me.
“I don’t get it.” I say.
Sometimes it feels like we are back at the beginning. I feel like the children with the counters trying to make it add up. I get confused just like they do. Like the children I must think big and count small. Sometimes the two sides of the domino read 0 and 4. This baffles them the most.
I ask them, ‘What is 0 and 4?’
‘0?’ they ask back, shrugging their shoulders.
‘Think big, count small,’ I remind them, pausing each time so they can grasp what I am saying.
‘Lets turn the domino around. Let’s see what you have already got.’
‘If we think big, we see that the first number is 4.’
‘4 add 0 is 4.’
After a while, after lots of hands on experimentation, they got it. I saw the light go on behind their eyes. I gave them their textbooks and sent them to their desks, so they could record what they now knew. They may not remember next week. They may experience that overwhelming sensation that you get when you forget the strategy. I will be there to remind them, just as God was waiting in the hospital corridors later that day at St Vincent’s when we went to meet the new ear specialist so we could get another opinion.
This specialist told us Sam has a condition called ‘myringitis’ caused by the on-going infection in her ears. He told me she is losing her hearing, it’s partially gone already and it could continue to go. He tried to explain to us that the infection will be very difficult to treat but we will start again anyway and he says he is going to talk to the haematologist to discuss a biopsy on her eardrum. I take it all in and realise that it would mean another operation, another general anaesthetic but this way they could determine if the infection is caused by GVHD.
What are you supposed to do, when what is happening can’t be?
You do the only thing you know to do. Instead of hopping in the car I decide we are going to walk to ‘Ampersand’ because it’s a kind of haven. I found God there when Sam had the bone marrow transplant. It is all the things that spell comfort and home to me. It’s an old rambling building like the rectories of my childhood. The walls are lined with books, like the walls of my father’s study. I ordered rice pudding and a pot of tea for me and a hot chocolate and apple crumble for Sam.
On the nearest shelf I found ‘The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Quotations,’ and decided to buy it. Sam convinced me that I should. As I paid I engaged in conversation with the owner, I told her the rice pudding was perfect just like my dad used to make it but she should serve it with a spoonful of strawberry jam. I thanked her for her beautiful shop and told her some of our story. I felt like I had been to church, that I’d partaken in Holy Communion and I left all the bits I don’t get on the altar, placing them in the hands of the one who loves me most.
I said a prayer and remembered a conversation with the children.
‘Amen, means you are saying goodbye to God,’ one little girl told me.
‘No, you are wrong,’ said the boy besides her, ‘and even if you say goodbye, he’ll never leave anyway.’
With that I got in the car, I let Sam choose the music and we sang our way home.