My daughter Valerie is an awesome fourth grade teacher. Her work days are spent in a classroom teeming with excitement, delight and fourth grade emotions. Her students are often bursting with energy which needs to be acknowledged, managed and navigated into a creative learning experience.
And Valerie is always ALL IN for whatever presents itself in the moment. Her spontaneous responses never fail to seize the unexpected opportunities knocking at her door.
And speaking of that “knocking”, I have a confession to make. While watching her from the “sidelines”, I have always loved the idea of being a part of the fun and I sometimes get these bursts of inspiration on how to make that happen.
Take this year, for example. At the beginning of this current school year, I arranged to have a super plush, 4 foot stuffed giraffe delivered to her classroom crammed into an Amazon delivery box. No one knew the delivery was coming… not even Valerie.
At this unexpected event, the students watched while she loosened the top flap of the box and the giraffe’s head popped out, followed by an unfolding of the rest of his body and limbs.
Oooos and ahhhhs pirouetted in the air and Valerie read out loud the message the giraffe was delivering for me: “So much to discover!”
It was a delightful moment for the kids. Everybody is always curious when a new student joins the class.
It wasn’t very long before Valerie had positioned Spot (named by a vote of the class) standing up at the blackboard. Next to him were chalk notes from Spot written to the students. Overnight, Spot had become a teaching assistant, communicating to the students important thoughts for them to remember.
As I learned about Spot’s new assignment, I knew the giraffe would provide lots of fun for the students, but I didn’t know how soon I would be eager to introduce a new companion for him.
A few weeks later another delivery arrived to the classroom containing a large box with another jungle animal. This time it was a plush stuffed lion. I hasten to explain here that it was a lion with a gentle face. (All the jungle animals that found their way into Valerie‘s fourth grade classroom had gentle demeanors. This was a very important rule of mine. I wanted the students to enjoy the animals’ personalities.)
This particular lion was designed in a reclining manner which made it easy for students to approach it before class each day. And it wasn’t long before Valerie found students petting the lion and his brother giraffe. She quickly saw that their presence was filling a need the students had to use the sense of touch to express their affection.
As time went on, I asked myself what could be added to this awesome duo and the answer presented itself to me In an imaginary jungle scene… Two colorful parrots! Talking parrots. And the two plush parrots who joined the scenario next were able to record what they heard and repeat it back to the students in their own unique parrot voices.
As animals arrived to the classroom they typically received a name that had been voted on by the class. If any student was absent on this important day, the class waited for a full return before the vote was taken. Every vote was important.
By now the school year had reached Halloween and the students eagerly dressed the animals for the occasion.
I was delighted to see the jungle scene was creating itself and I felt a call for some rascal energy and, soon after, four monkeys arrived each with a mischevious grin decorating his face. Each monkey had Velcro attached to his hands and feet and so there were many interesting ways the monkeys could be displayed in the classroom.
Over time, I began to wonder what else might belong in the jungle scenario. I wanted to surprise everyone and think of a creature no one would have anticipated. I decided on a tortoise and no one had more fun with the new visitor than the classroom maintenance person who commented it would be fun to suspend it from the ceiling so it would look like it was swimming.
As the school year passed quickly by, I realized we were only a few weeks away from its ending. Something in me was calling for a dramatic, final surprise. I was ecstatic to find Stripes, an adorable, genteel, plush 30 inch zebra who was introduced to the class by Spot, his fellow sojourner.
Reflecting on the delightful events of the school year, I begin to wonder who had had more fun this year…the students or me. Or maybe it was the maintenance man who wanted to suspend the tortoise from the ceiling as if he were swimming by. Perhaps it was my daughter who got to use her ingenuity incorporating the new additions to her exciting classroom.
As I told a friend about this adventure of mine, she commented that the students would never forget their fourth grade experience. I loved that thought. I felt they would fondly remember their generous, fun-loving teacher and the jungle animals who had helped her capture so many important lessons in the classroom.
A couple of days ago I listened to a podcast discussing a book called Homecoming. The book is about coming home to ourselves. I thought about coming home to myself and I realized how much I love to use my imagination to create fun, loving, surprising things. I thought about the wonderful imagination of my daughter and her students as they enjoyed their jungle friends and I sat down to write this blog because sharing these memories made me come home to myself and what I treasure so much in my life.
How delightful it is to think about coming home to ourselves every day. The fun… the adventure… the joy. Coming home to whatever makes our hearts sing. When we are immersed in these beautiful moments, I think we access the very best parts of ourselves.
What are your greatest sources of joy and adventure? Have you accessed them today?
Spot, Stripes and the rest of the fourth grade jungle crew are wishing you an AWESOME day coming home to yourself.