86: Kindergarten Grandma

86: Kindergarten Grandma

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Volunteering & Giving Back

Kindergarten Grandma

It takes a very long time to become young.

~Pablo Picasso

Helen entered my life after a parent approached me and asked if I would consider hosting a foster grandparent volunteer in my kindergarten class. My answer was an immediate yes.

As a teacher, I strove to make the classroom feel like a family. Many children did not have grandparents or had ones who lived far away, so I thought this was a wonderful opportunity for children to be nurtured by an older adult. I introduced her to the class by the name Grandma Helen.

I was not quite certain what to expect when Helen first came to us. I had envisioned a little old lady, possibly frail, who would read and spend time with the children. Little did I know that Helen would walk into the classroom with a spring in her step and a twinkle in her eye. She said she was available up to three days a week for about four hours. She was anxious to help in any way she could.

Helen’s enthusiasm was contagious. Her energy level was so high I would joke that if we ran a race, she would win. She was agile getting up and down from those little kindergarten chairs even though “grown up” chairs were available.

The students gravitated to her right away. It turned out that she did not want to read to groups of students, but really enjoyed sitting at learning stations while students were working. There they would talk and she would make note of their questions and concerns. Not all students were able to focus and finish their work on time, so she helped the ones who needed a little extra guidance. She had endless patience helping a child learn to cut with scissors or tie shoelaces.

Wintertime always brought the battle of the coats and boots. The children had about twenty to thirty minutes of outside recess. Grandma Helen helped zip thousands of jackets. When the students came inside there were always a few stuck in their coats when the lining of their jackets got caught in their zippers. She would patiently lift the offending coats over their heads and work to loosen the zippers. This even happened to me, and I was grateful that I didn’t have to wear my jacket until lunchtime!

Helen was only scheduled to work a few days a week, but that soon turned into every day. I looked forward to her cheerful presence and extra help. The students eagerly waved to her from their tables when she walked through the door. If she didn’t arrive by snack time the students wanted to know where she was.

Her volunteer hours stretched into longer periods of time where I would find her standing at the sink washing paintbrushes, putting materials together or cutting the miles of laminated paper materials. Pitching in and doing these activities saved me so much time. Her work allowed me to leave school by 5:00 so I could spend more time with my family.

Grandma Helen loved coming to school. She was always disappointed when I called her on extremely cold and icy mornings and told her not to come. This lovely seventy-eight-year-old woman drove to our school from a town that was thirty minutes away. The school parking lot was situated a distance from the front doors and I was worried she would slip on the ice.

It was very exciting when the Department of Aging honored her and three other foster grandparents at a recognition dinner. Their families, teachers and principals were invited to join them. Grandma Helen remarked that she didn’t understand why so many of her friends were content to stay home and be lonely instead of having meaningful activities to look forward to during the day.

She enjoyed attending class parties and delighted in the children’s excited reactions when she gave them candy on Valentine’s Day and books at the winter holiday party. She felt wonderful when she helped a child complete a craft. We were all grateful for the many times she cleaned up paint spills and kept papers from sticking together after an enthusiastic student used too much glue.

Grandma Helen became a special friend to me. I looked forward to her calming presence. I was filled with curiosity to see what she might pull out of her canvas bag on arrival: would it be hats and mittens, extra socks, maybe a snack for the class or even a teacher supply I needed?

She was supportive of me as a teacher and became a compassionate confidante. We shared stories and events about our lives and families as we became close over the years. We even met occasionally over the summer months.

Grandma Helen spent years in my classroom. Amazingly, I retired before she did. She graduated to second grade and continued to spread her kindness and generosity.

~Jean Ferratier

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