Book reading to kids in elementary school

Last Fall I started to volunteer once a week, at a Day Center. I usually do math homework with 5th to 8th graders. Preteens and early teens. I frankly started to love it early on, but even more so as I get to know them better.  

The other day, they couldn’t wrap their mind around my age. In their experience 34 is super old, life-is-over and-you-show-it type of old. So naturally they assume I’m 20, because the volunteers are generally students or young professionals. 

Today was a special day though. Math homework was manageable, quick and the teenagers were focused. I got to partake in the short 10 minutes break in the sun, in the yard, where self-awareness is heavy and uncomfortable. I get the unique opportunity to experience recess from a refreshed perspective.  

After that I was invited to read my book to the younger kids: the 1st to 4th graders. Let’s just say they were chaotic. That’s where most drama happens. They are just getting acquainted with order and any type of manners. These kids come from at risk families. Their unpredictable and testing behavior is a symptom. But with patience and commitment, with boundaries and first steps of discipline, things turn around. Little people turn around. 

We all sat in a circle. They complained and didn’t want to comply whatsoever. 

I introduced myself. Told them I’m a volunteer doing math with the older kids. That’s street credit with them. They went around and told me their names. Countless interruptions. Luckily I have trained well with my 5 year old to remain focused and unbothered. 

So I told them about my book. I talked to them about adoption. Some said they have friends who are adopted. I didn’t have a clear talking plan, but that’s when it comes most natural. One of the girls bursted into tears as I was talking. I didn’t catch if it was something I said or another girl bothered her. Eventually I started reading my book. During the first page they had another outburst of bickering and talking over each other, but as I navigated with my voice like a surfer through waves, lowering my tone, waiting for them, then inserting poignant words in between their noise… they quieted down. 

A boy asked a question but we said we’ll reserve some time to answer questions at the end. The rest of the pages, 20 of them, I read with heart, with a clear voice and enunciation. It was a reverent silence in the room. Finally. 

At the end they went around the room and poured over the book slowly. Most of them asked very good questions. Many regarding adoption. Some regarding the process of publishing a book, or how does one go about writing a book. They invited me to read them my next book. It takes less than 10 minutes to introduce the topic and read the book. We spent another 30 minutes talking afterwards. And they were engaged and curious and hooked. I often leave a room full of noisy kids, exhausted. Not this time.