Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Miss Leslie and the film projector

I've been taking Will to our main library's free kids' programs since she was 8 months old. I cannot say enough good things about "Books and Babies" and then, "Toddler Time." The pace of the programs, the age-appropriate activities, the mix of songs and stories and now, a craft. I have always been impressed with the quality of these free opportunities for early literacy in the community.

But the central library is not the same as a nearby branch of the same system, it seems.

Half the fun of the program has been hanging out with my mom friend and her daughter after each class. We bring the girls a snack and they have a chance to run around while we chat. So when her teaching schedule interfered with the fall toddler class, we decided to sign up for the session at a different library branch.

Well. Apparently, my friend was the thirteenth person to sign up for a twelve child class. She was put on a waiting list and asked to wait upstairs until they saw if there were any openings. She and her child were ushered in when a couple of kids didn't show up, but as they settled in beside me and Will, we heard an unearthly shrieking sound.

"You hoo! Excuse me? Hello! You there!"

Suddenly we realized a woman was directing her bird-calls in our direction.

"Move into the middle! I need to be able to get down the sides of the room in the dark!"

We herded the girls and ourselves away from the edges of the group as she strided towards the front.

"I have been running these programs for over thirty years," she announced proudly. "Somewhere along the road the children started calling me Miss Leslie, and it has been Miss Leslie ever since."

Gazing around, I saw that the room was set up as a kind of shrine, covered in bulletin boards with "Thank you, Miss Leslie!" and "We love you, Miss Leslie" cards and posters.

Miss Leslie - who was at least 60 years old - continued. "I have set out a pile of red paper apples at the back of the room. Take one every week and write down the titles of the three books you read to your child. Then bring them back, and at the end of the session this tree--" she pointed to one of the bulletin boards,"--will be literally overflowing with apples. The children love it."

My friend leaned towards me: "Three books? We read seven just waiting to be called in."

Miss Leslie then proceeded to have one of the children - "oh, angel!" - help her match two of the same cut out leaves on the floor in front of her. Then each child was given a leaf and had to go up to the front of the room in a mad rush to try to match her leaf. Will, who can match 36 different paintings in a game at home, would only put her leaf next to the nearest one, while her friend refused to go up to the front alone.

"This is very challenging for the children." Miss Leslie tried to soothe us in case we were panicking because our children couldn't complete the task. "Very challenging for the little ones!"

After that chaos, Miss Leslie pulled out a felt board and told a story completely unrelated to leaves or fall; instead, it was about a little duck trying to make the sounds of the other animals in the barnyard. Then she picked up the picture book from beside her chair - covered in pictures of autumn leaves - looked at her watch and tucked the book under her arm.

I knew that the craft, at least, was about leaves, as I could see the photocopies of trees and the cups full of crayons set out on the side table. But instead of directing the children to the table, Miss Leslie shushed them and announced it was time for the movie.

"Movie?" I raised my eyebrows at my friend and listened to Miss Leslie gush about their collection of old Disney films - the only library to have them - and how the children loved the films, just loved them. Then she walked to the back of the room, turned out the lights and turned on - wait for it - the film projector.

And the room full of 2 and 3 year olds watched this for seven minutes:

Nothing to do with fall or leaves or early literary or even 2 year-olds. But Miss Leslie has been doing this for years, and boy, was Miss Leslie proud.

No comments: