Playing with Abandon


by John C. Westervelt


        Standing in the Gathering Area of Asbury’s new children’s wing, I watched fifteen four-year-olds playing with abandon. I thought, “If only I could do that, it would soothe my mind, body, and spirit.

        How did the children happen to be here? It all began in August 2008 when I greeted fifteen three-year-olds on a Tuesday morning as they arrived for their first day of preschool.

        Asbury preschool for this age is a blend of playing and learning. Each Tuesday and Thursday, Jan Wagner and Sue Wetmore prepare learning centers at three round tables. The children practice coloring, cutting, and learning numbers and letters. They learn the skills of playing harmoniously together from the teachers and from each other.

        This year Miss Jan and Miss Sue decided to celebrate all the children’s birthdays together on the next to last Thursday of the school year. As the morning began, Miss Jan blew up a dozen and a half balloons of all colors.

        The children were free to bounce the balloons off of the walls, ceiling, and each other. At first, I tapped the balloons coming my way back to the child that sent it. Later, I stood by Miss Sue and said, “Disney World could be no more fun than this.”

        A little later, the teachers asked the children to put the balloons away and find their name on the rug for circle time. The flag holder, as noted on the board up front, picked up the American flag. The children said a pledge to the American flag, the Christian flag, and the Bible. Finally, they sang, “The B-I-B-L-E, that’s the book for me...”

        Each month the children have a new Bible verse to memorize as the Lord asked of us in Deuteronomy 11:18-19 - “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds... Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

        The birthday party was to begin at 1:30 with the arrival of a group of mothers. The morning schedule was accelerated so the after-lunch rest-time could begin earlier.

        Since rain had dampened the outside playground, we led the children to the Gathering Area in the new wing completed a year ago with funds from Mission Possible. The rectangular room with an eighteen-inch high stage on one end was empty except for a cart in the corner filled with rubber balls. It looked like a small gym.

        As background, let me say that these children have had nine months training in classroom behavior. The words spoken most often by Miss Jan, Miss Sue, and me are, “Remember, walking feet; remember, use your inside voice.” Occasionally at the end of a harried day, you might hear in a raised voice, “No running! No yelling!”

        The rules are different in the gym. Each child picked out a rubber ball for bouncing and throwing. Before long, a restless little boy threw his ball in the corner and ran counterclockwise in an ellipse that filled the gym. His buddy joined him, and soon thereafter a little girl joined the chase. The next thing I knew, fifteen children were going around the track.

        A little later the whirling blur slowed then stopped. Every child was gasping for breath. I was afraid to check their pulses. Recovery was swift. The fast little boy took off again and soon the herd was blurring past my eyes once more.

        The children grew tired and this time moved to the far corner of the room as viewed by Miss Jan, Miss Sue, and me, who were sitting on the low stage. These children, quiet in the classroom, sounded like high school cheerleaders without a cadence. I looked at Miss Sue. She said, “Let them get it all out and leave it here.”

        Later, back in the classroom, my morning volunteer duties were about over. All was quiet. I thought about my investments. Those in common stock have recently depreciated. My investment in the children has appreciated, and compounding will go on for a lifetime.


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