A Roomful Of Butterflies

MY new teaching job is underpaid, but very interesting. I work in a combination preschool/after-school day-care center near a small lake in a wooded area of town. I interact with children from ages 1 to 8 all day long. When the after-schoolers arrive, I direct their program, which consists mainly of arts and crafts. With the after-school program, I set up a unit on Indian art and projects by region. Since this is an optional program, with some children coming on a drop-in basis, the makeup of the group varies from day to day, with few of the same children. I approach these children as carefully as if they were birds or butterflies, not wanting to drive them away. I try to plan activities that they don't know we're doing until they're already involved and participating. These children, like most, are resistant to the idea of ``mandatory fun.''

Instead, they see me setting up for the project, cutting notches in cardboard, stringing cardboard looms. It looks interesting. What's that? they ask. I'm thinking of having us do some cardboard weaving sometime in the future, I explain. I just happen to have enough cardboard for everyone, but don't let on - yet. You have to be sneaky. I'm seeing if this cardboard would be good to use, if this would be a good project, I tell them.

I don't like weaving, one of them tells me. Yes, I agree, continuing to string the notched cardboard pieces, not everyone likes everything. We did it with pieces of paper, the child continues, not taking his eyes off the stringing process. Mine got wet in the rain and broke, he finishes. I tell him that this yarn won't fall apart if it gets wet. By now I have a crowd around me, so I cut a length of yarn, tie it to a large safety pin, and begin weaving, muttering to myself, ``under and over, under and over.'' My audience watches intently, silent.

Can I try that? a child asks. Sure, I answer, handing it to her. Others ask for one. Soon the entire group is busy. There is silence, and then someone asks for more yarn. I feel as though I've caught, for just an instant, a roomful of butterflies.

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