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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Day 13... The tables have turned.

Just a head's up: This post is a little more opinionated. They will not all be like this, but I think I just needed to vent about a few things first before I could accept that this new volunteering experience is just going to be this way.

Hello everyone! I'm finally back volunteering at PSP and I am excited to start my new adventure. However, I have already experienced major differences and I can tell that this is going to be a HUGE challenge. Last Tuesday was my first volunteering day. I am sad to report that I no longer am working with the infants and toddlers because my schedule does not match up with their daycare hours anymore. So about a month ago, I emailed the volunteer director and asked where I could be placed next. Since the only time of the day that I am available to work is the evenings, I got placed in an after-school evening program for 5-12 year olds and finally started last week. The jump from ages 0-3 to 5-12 is such a massive leap emotionally, physically, and intellectually that I mostly tried to just observe on my first day because I was so incredibly overwhelmed.
I got to the shelter around 5:30pm and I started talking to one of the women who worked there. She introduced me to the other 5 instructors and gave me some quick tips. One of her big ones was "structure". After being in the room for 5 minutes with the kids, I understood why. I was instructed to start cutting out pictures of garden-food items from magazines while we waited for the kids to show up. She told me that there is two sessions and even though there was no clock in the classroom, I figure that they are each an hour long. The activity that the kids were supposed to work on that day was to make a collage of what they would want in their garden. I think that they have a theme that they follow everyday and that day was healthy food.
The kids arrived probably around 5:45 and they all filed in one by one a few minutes apart. The first thing I noticed was the extreme energy. I thought, sure, it's nighttime. They probably just ate some sugar. All they want to do is run around and talk to everybody. That's totally normal behavior for any 5-12 year old who has some sugar coursing through their veins 5pm at night. As they start arriving, I also notice the lack of discipline. They do not listen to the head teacher's instructions and they could care less about the activity they were supposed to do. Honestly, I do not blame them one iota. They do not have a spot for a garden at the shelter and they eat what is served to them in the cafeteria at PSP. They could choose to eat expensive, healthy garden vegetables (like what the activity is promoting) or they could eat the food that comes to them free at the shelter. PSP's food is probably great because I have learned a little bit about how their food service works and it's an amazing system they have, but I just think it's strange to incorporate the garden theme. Like I said before, the families staying here do not have the space for a garden at PSP, I am not surprised they don't really care about the activity.
Anyways, because the kid's attention was not focused on the activity, they were running around the small room, jumping off of tables, yelling names at each other, throwing things, and hitting each other. I have never experienced such disarray in a classroom before and the lack of instructor-ness the instructors demonstrated was sad. I love PSP and how it helps these people survive this harsh world every single day. It's an amazing organization that is doing tremendous things for anyone involved. However, I was highly disappointed in the lack of authority that the instructors used to keep the classroom from basically, well… imploding.
Talking too softly and sweetly to them when scolding is not going to help them know that they need to behave when working on activities. Even though they might not be interested in what we are learning. They were basically just saying, "No." and hoping they wouldn't jump from a table again or pull their friend's hair. I do not have all of the answers as to how this situation could be improved, but hopefully as I volunteer here longer I can maybe understand and eventually accept the methods these instructors use. Maybe in the long run these approaches work despite the fact that the short term is so damaging to the kids (in my opinion). I do not really know how to feel at this time, but learning how to help these kids will be a good thing for me. I want to help them, but I just do not know how yet.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Day 12

My experiences at PSP have really shaped my views on education and childcare. I think this was possibly my last week in the Infant/Toddler section, and I will possibly be moving to another area of PSP this coming week. My summer schedule is coming up fast and I will not be able to go in on Mondays any more. However, maybe I could stop in on the weekends or try volunteering somewhere else on the weekends? I will have to think about it some more. Quite possibly, perhaps my time is done at PSP? Although, they do need the help!
Any-who, last Monday was entertaining. I love helping with the kids. They brightened my dark weekend and even during the gloomy weather I found solace. When I arrived, there were babies everywhere again. It is getting more challenging for them because many of the other volunteer's time at PSP is also coming to an end. The college semester is pretty much over and the students do not need any more volunteer hours. Therefore, the volunteer numbers are low. However, since I am just doing this for fun, I have the option to help them.
One thing I tried with two of the infant girls was place them within reach of each other on a play mat. I put toys in front of them and observed how they interacted with the toys and each other. I have noted that I have never seen the babies interact with each other before. The little girls would exchange glances and grab their friend's arm or touch their hair. I thought it was cool that they got to finally be "aware of" their friend. Possibly this early interaction with other babies will instill a positive social implication to their personalities.
After helping the babies find toys to play with and getting the others to sleep, the toddler side was also lacking in volunteers so I went over there because the kids were waking up from their naps. I walk in through the child-secure gate and see one of the toddlers sitting at the snack table and eating his raisins (which obviously must have been today's snack option). He also appeared to be the only one left eating because his daycare-mates were off doing other things. However, I did notice that a small group of kids had surrounded the table. They were watching in careful anticipation for the boy to glance away so they could snatch his raisins. He kept a watchful eye on them and finished his handful of raisins. He turned to the head instructor and did the hand symbol for "More" all while saying, "More, please?" The instructor grabbed another handful and placed it in front of him and the little boy looked away for a second. As soon as the raisins touched the table, all of the kids that had surrounded the diameter of the table lunged forward and grabbed all his snack. The poor boy was wiped clean of raisins within a matter of seconds. All of the instructors, including myself, found this to be very amusing. However, we made sure to give him more raisins along with a high-security body guard to be his bouncer.
The kids are so brutally honest and many of the things they do are so amusing. I do not know what I would do without this kind of joy in my life. I do not know what kind of teacher I want to be, but I do feel that working with children is where I feel most at home.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Day 11

Last Monday, I started out by working with the infants. There were more awake and active infants than there were hands to hold them. I started out by playing with one of the little girls that has been at the shelter for awhile. She was the first baby I got to hold here at PSP and she has grown so much! It's crazy to watch how fast they grow even over only a couple months. Volunteers were limited that day so it was challenging at points when an instructor had to leave and help out the other side. The babies were all over the place: various blankets and pillows on the floor, being held by random instructors, and lounging in various cradle-holders. Almost all of them were awake and looking for games to play and things to do because only a few had succumbed to sleep. The toddler side needed help, however, so I propped a few of the kids up on pillows and blankets with a toy they could play with and went over to the other side to help the toddlers. They were getting ready to head outside, so we gathered up the kids and started maneuvering them out the door to the playground in the front of the building.
One of the girls was not having a great day and only wanted to be held. She had me carry her pretty much the whole time we were outside. I tried offering her the alternative of playing on the jungle gym, but she was not having it. After a while, her mom finally came and picked her up, and she was fairly relieved when she saw her. I also noted that there were quite a few kids who wanted to be held and not interested in playing with their friends. I think it is usually around this time of day when the kids start to get really family-sick and miss their mom and dads.
My favorite part of the day was when one of the little boys I was holding started to get super happy and excited for seemingly no reason. He started waving at someone and I looked over to see what all the commotion was about. His young mom and dad were heading up towards the shelter on their way back from somewhere and he was just really excited to see them. We walked up to the gate and since we recognized his dad, we handed the little boy over to his sweet family.
A lot of close-minded people would criticize a young family for being unprepared and too young, maybe even pulling out the argument of the dad's-gonna-leave situation. I do not think anyone can truly be prepared for a new baby. Whether they are young parents or old parents, you never can be too ready for a baby, money or none. I'm not a parent myself, but I have been around a lot of people who are new parents and they never seem quite ready for the baby no matter what their financial situation may be. However, with some help and guidance from others, they can pull through. It's just important you find people you can trust. In this young family's situation, yeah they may not be in an ideal set-up, but I think all that matters to them right now is the love they have for each other. I feel they can pull out of their situation if they work together. Thoughts anyone?

Friday, May 9, 2014

Day 10

This past week at People Serving People, I had the opportunity to work with the toddlers. I wanted to post about something else I learned after observing the toddlers. On Monday I realized that they learn mostly from each other. These interactions at such a young age with others who are similar in age are great ways for the kids to learn about themselves and the world. The interactions they get to experience in daycare settings I discovered are highly beneficial for them. There are good interactions and negative interactions, but I found that both kinds are helpful for them. 
The kids are so funny to watch during snack time. The rules are that they have to sit with their chair pulled up to the table ("tummy to the table") and that they have to have their feet on the floor. Also, they cannot get up from their spot until they have indicated they are done eating their snack. Creating a comparison, I think the animals that copy each other are called lemmings. These little babies remind me of lemmings because when one of them does something, another one of them has to copy and they go with the group. There may actually be misconceptions about lemmings, but for the sake of comparison, I'll leave the lemming reference. On a related note, I was watching them during snack time to make sure good behavior was being practiced and one of the boys started to push his chair away from the table, nearly 4 feet away from the snack table. I simply told him, "tummy to the table" and he scooted his boot back up to the table. Unfortunately, this was a catalyst for the anti-tummy-to-the-table-rebellion and all turmoil broke loose at the snack table in the toddler room. Almost all of the kids started sliding their chairs away from the table while they were all giggling and making noises at each other. It was humorous to watch, but I knew that order had to be restored. Other instances of repeated and copied behavior include standing on the table, pounding on the table, making loud noises, and other interesting forms of snack time entertainment. It's always fun to see what these kids are going to pull out their hats at a given moment. These lemming behaviors don't always happen during snack time, but I have seen them while they are playing or waking up from naps. One person doing something silly is never enough, according to the little goofballs, they always have to repeat each other. I usually find that one of my mottos in life is "do what you feel" and if they want to all start making animal noises, let their little hearts go and make those animal noises.
While I was there on Monday, we got a call from the security desk about a dad that said he was there to pick up his little toddler. There was some confusion over paperwork because when the mom dropped off her baby earlier that day, she never said that the dad would be picking them up early. The process took about 15 minutes because phone calls had to be made, paperwork had to be opened, and ID's had to be checked in order to hand the kid over to the dad. Nothing truly dramatic came from the situation, but it was nice to know that these instructors are generally concerned enough over the kids that they aren't just going to believe someone when they say they are the dad/mom of a child here at the daycare. They take the time to look into it and make sure the child is safe.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Day 9

Last Monday I was at PSP for a couple hours again and I got to experience bringing the kids outside to the playground! I came in and was immediately put with the infants because there were 6 of them and they were all awake. There were in between 10 and 12 toddlers, except they did not need help yet because most of them were still sleeping from nap time. There was a brand new baby on the infant side that day and she was only six weeks old. She had a full head of straight, dark hair and big brown, curious eyes. I held her for a short while, then she started to fuss so one of the other instructors gave me her bottle. I sat there and fed her for about 15 minutes. She would suck from the bottle, but then her eyes would start to drift off. Slowly but surely, the little angel finally fell asleep.
I passed her off to another instructor for a while because one of the other little boys was lying on the blanket by himself not really doing anything. I held onto him for a while and listened as the toddlers were heading out the door to go to the playground in front of the building. Looking out the window, we could see the toddlers and the two instructors play on the jungle gym. The instructors looked a little overwhelmed, so I set up the baby I was holding in a place where he could reach his toys without too much effort and made my way outside to help them.
The kids were in full force that day. They were running, climbing, and jumping all over the place outside. Kids were taking turns sliding down the slides and crawling through the tubes. There were only a few instances where the kids would hit one another or bite so that they could move their friends out of the way. Some of the kids wanted to be picked up so that they could be held for a short while, but most of them were playing.
I noticed a couple things this time that I felt are worth mentioning. First of all, in regards to holding the children, it is crazy how much trust they have in us. They know we are adults, but they really know nothing else about us. What is amazing is how if the kids want to be held, they will walk up to just about any of us and hold up their arms (obviously indicating to pick them up). They really do not care who it is, but some of them just want to be picked up and held. I think in this daycare setting they feel safe, though.
The parents usually pick up the kids around 4/4:30pm. We were all assuming that the parents get done with work or whatever they are doing and then come and pick up the kids. However, one thing myself and one of the other instructors talked about was how some parents are just hanging around outside while their child is still in daycare waiting to get picked up. The parents that do this are just hanging around, doing nothing. I mean, wouldn't you want to be spending time with your kid as soon as you are able after a long time away from them while you were at work? I do not know what it is like to be a mom, but I think that I would want to pick them up from daycare as soon as I could. I can't really judge the parents because maybe they just need a break, but I feel like standing outside is not a very productive use of your time. These are just some thoughts I have had about parents and the PSP community in relation to the infants/toddlers.

Day 8

So I have to catch up on my last two days at People Serving People. This one will be fairly quick because there was not too much other than the usual happenings last week. I think one of the things that stood out for me last week was the fact that I had not noticed the physical aggression that ensues amongst the toddlers. Either because it always happened when I was not looking or because it just did not start until recently. Probably the first situation, though, because even though it was the first time I had seen any of these toddlers use physical aggression against each other, I witnessed it happening on numerous occasions throughout my two hours there that day.
The reason the kids become agitated with each other usually has something to do with toys and sharing. The way I saw them hurting each other was through biting and hitting, mostly. One of the little girls would bite herself when one of the kids was making her mad, too. The biting is scary to watch because the kids do not really care what happens to their friend as long as they get their toy back. I am sure that they do not want to hurt their friends, but they also do not really understand the value of other human lives and how it is appropriate to interact with others yet.
One of the other things I noticed was the verbal aggression that the kids used with each other. This is also important behavior that the teacher should correct because this is what can get out of hand as the child gets older. One of the little boys was pushing a shopping cart around the play area and got stuck because one of the other kids was in the way. He stopped and yelled, "Get out of my way!" The teacher stopped him and said, "That is not how we talk to our friends! You have to play nice." The little boy quickly understood and said in the sweetest voice ever, "Excuse me." If quickly corrected, they can learn that what they had originally said was not nice and that they need to address their friends nicely.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Day 7

Hey all, I am back! I was on spring break for a while and was not able to get to the shelter the last few Mondays. However, I was able to go this week and I have interesting things to write about… I hope! Mostly concerning a few things I noticed while I was there on Monday.
There were only two infants in the daycare center, so I got sent over to the toddler section again because they had 11 that came in that day. I do not really mind working over there because it is nice to experience both ages. However, it is not always easy. The obvious difference I will note between them is toddlers are just like babies, except for they walk, talk, understand, walk, climb, and walk. Did I mention walk?  So maybe there are more than a few differences, but what is especially nice about babies is that they are easier to keep track of. For example, if you set one in a rocking swing and walk away for a few minutes, chances are the kid is going to still be there when you come back. On the other hand, if you put a toddler on a chair and walk away for a few minutes, chances are that by the time you come back, they have already hopped the border and are sipping a juice box on a sandy beach in Mexico! Moral of the story is to keep a close eye on them at all times.
It was about halfway through my time there and one of the teachers starts to look around rapidly. I quickly noted that the playroom's door was ajar. She asks for a head count and the other instructors and myself start counting. She yells out before I finish that there are only 8. In the moment, it was all very fast. All we know is that two of them already got picked up, so that means one is missing… but who? There are only a few kids who know how to open the "child-safe" door. It has never been a problem before because they are usually pretty good about the rules of not leaving the play area. We all start looking at each of the toddlers faces, trying to figure out who is not present among them. One of the instructors figures it out and races out of the room. She comes back a few agonizing minutes later with one of the little girls being led closely beside her. She got put in time-out and appeared very shaken as she sat there looking at all of us. It was actually really sad to see her like that, but since the door is not the most reliable, the kids need to know that it is not okay to leave the play area without an adult.
Throughout my time there, I have also noticed a few things that break my heart. Some of the toys that these kids are playing with were probably the same toys I was playing with 20 years ago. Not all of them are in bad shape, but there are many that are very beat-up and are very past their "expiration date". The kitchen set is a mix-match of fake bread, an ice cream scoop without the cone, and random dinner plates and cups. The blankets they use during nap-time are ripped and falling apart. I want to change this while I am here. Somehow I want to at least get them new blankets or be able to replace the old toys that they use. Another thing I need to start collecting is baby/toddler clothes. There are a lot of clothes that these kids are using that do not fit them or need to replaced due to being very old. Maybe I can start this through my work at OSLCE? Or maybe I can start something on my own. These are just my thoughts from my past  experience volunteering there, Monday. Time will tell!