Kids say, do, sing, dance, touch or destroy the darndest things…

South Lichterfelde, where I teach on Thursday mornings. That white triangle in the distance? An abandoned carousel. Really.

Good god, I wish I could be young again. I don’t mean ‘heyday of my youth’ kind of young – I’d like to think I haven’t quite left that in the first place, not to mention that I am repeatedly mistaken for a sixteen-year-old (or younger) and threatening to make me relive puberty is the one surefire threat that would make me do anything in the entire world, even drop-kicking a newborn kitten against a brick wall. No, I mean like toddler-young, teeny-weeny young, the-kids-I-teach kind of young. They live a marvellous existence and don’t even know it. To wear tights as your default legwear regardless of gender or prejudice arising therefrom? To take a good hour to eat a whole apple because proportionally it would be like an adult eating a balloon-sized fruit? To find everything that makes a slightly goofy noise marvellously funny, even if it’s repeated numerous times? People, these truly are magical moments, and it’s a shame we spend all of them dribbling around in a hyperactive dizzy fog until it lifts around the age of six and we realise that the world is a dark, dark place.

The one thing I really love about teaching the real tinies is how appreciative they are of the effort you put in to be entertaining and funny. Unlike adults, if you do a really good dance or put on an especially wacky voice or simply raise your eyebrow in an extravagant way they make no bones about showing you how much they love it and find it hilarious, and they giggle and jump up and down and grin widely and sometimes they say brilliant things, like when I introduced a new song and at the end little Julian collapsed with a puff of tired breath and sighed, “That is my new favourite song ever.” The kids I teach constantly come up with wild and funny ideas or thoughts which I can scarcely witness without wanting to applaud them; Vlad, a burly little chap with a deep and sturdy voice, once said he didn’t want to come to English because he ‘was scared’. When I asked him what he was scared of, he gave me a devilish smile and said: “I am scared of my shoes.” Thank you, Vlad. Recently I was playing the fish game with one class – this game involves the children being ‘BIIIIG FISH’ and me being a ‘little fish’ and having to ask them ‘how are you?’ until the word ‘hungry’ comes up, at which point all the BIG fish run after the little fish and eat him (me). The big fish leapt on me with their usual vigour and chewed me down to the bones, at which point one child stood upright, deadly serious, and said, “I didn’t finish eating you up.” “Why not?”, I replied. “Because you didn’t have enough salt and pepper on you.”

They are nuts, and sometimes I wonder whether they are too young to be being strictly ‘taught’ anything, simply because their world works in a totally different way. Some of them can’t sing a whole song without spontaneously being violent to the person next to them, and some of them spend an entire forty-five minute lesson with their tongue lolling out of their mouth, swooping it around in big circles like someone swinging a wet rag. To teach such little ones you have to be constantly looking around like a lifeguard in a pool full of triple-amputees; there is always one child that needs to be told to STOP IT, another child who is gradually losing focus and a third kid who has just done something awesome. You must never ever forget the child who did the good thing like say a word properly or finally say ‘I am fine’ instead of ‘I am five’ for the first time because the praise is what they live and die for, and you can actually see their face drop if they do something right and you don’t give them the recognition right away. 

Praise and positive reinforcement are, I reckon, the two strongest strings to any teacher’s bow, but in this age group most of all. I have had several kids who are just plain old why-you-little kind of naughty and sometimes all it takes is a huge burst of compliments at a well-timed victory for their eyes to gleam and for them to spend the rest of the lesson behaving like a champion. They are suckers for the praise, too, which makes it so easy to dispense; there is one game I play with them divided into two teams competing against one another, and every week I engineer it so that ‘oh my good grief BOTH teams have exactly the same number of points, BOTH teams have won!!!’. Every week they scream and whoop with joy and hug each other for this tremendous collective achievement – my cynical childhood self would have simply furrowed my bushy eyebrows and commented that when everybody wins, everybody also loses. Play it right and you can have a whole group of toddlers pliable like putty; forget it or come to work in a bad mood and you can have them banding together in mutiny.

Finally, I have realised that the one thing I do need to keep me going from lesson and do my job well is to find one thing in each child that I think is cool or funny or clever, to avoid the trap of ignoring the ‘that little bugger’ in the room. This is not easy sometimes. The little three-year-old who constantly massages his testicles is hard to cherish. The kid who calls me ‘fat teacher’ is not so precious. But darn it, it can and must be done, and I find myself focusing in on the funniest little idiosyncrasies which are the things that have me marvelling day after day at how weird and awesome and alien little children are. I love Cedric because he does a Michael Jackson impression at ear-splitting volume at the end of every game. I love Jon because he dresses and stands as dapperly as a character from ‘The Great Gatsby’. I love Zoe because she looks exactly like my grandma even though she’s three. I love Julian because of his huge afro and huger grin. And I love the testicles kid because…well, I’m working on it.
p.s. my humble blog seems to have gained an exciting amount of momentum and I’d like to thank you all for reading and for your very kind comments and support; I’m really enjoying writing this but it wouldn’t feel half as worthwhile if it weren’t for knowing that you are egging me on. I’ll be coming up to my fiftieth post soon, for which I want to do something special (a video methinks…) but in the meantime I love reading your comments so keep ’em coming, let me know if you have a topic request, and do recommend Guten Morgen Berlin to friends, family and loved ones. For now I promise I will try to get posting at least three times a week so you can have your ‘Nase voll’ of me sooner rather than later. (‘Die Nase voll haben’ = to have had enough, literally to ‘have your nose full’)

Rose T