“don’t worry, just playing…”

I’ve started collecting data for my research project, and so lately I’ve been spending a lot of time with preschool-aged kids (for those who have no concept, they’re usually 3-5 years old). To describe it very bluntly, I show kids some pictures of animals or people, tell a sentence for each picture, and after they get distracted by playing with some legos, I show them the pictures again and see what they can remember of what I had said. Some of the preschools I visit require me to spend some time with the kids, in order to build rapport, before I do any testing with them. In such preschools, I actually get to know some of the kids, as opposed to simply doing a 20-minute-long task with them and sending them right back to their classroom. I join in on their regular classroom sessions for a few days, and play with them so that they get used to being around me.

A friend of mine asked me the other day if I enjoyed working with kids, and I think she assumed it must be a hassle, and it can be at times. As some of my friends have witnessed in the beginnings of my data collection, I was pretty anxious about being around kids that age. I didn’t know how to act, I felt awkward, especially if more experienced grown-ups were around, and had difficulty understanding what some kids talked about even (well, you have to admit that a lot of young kids mumble or even make up some words?). Yet, faced with that question today, I realized that, in such a short time I really got used to being around kids, and they make me feel good even. They’re silly, and slobbery, and they’re shy, but that doesn’t really keep them from doing or saying silly things, because I guess they have no sense of self-consciousness, and they smile and giggle a lot, and they can laugh at anything you say, it’s not important what you say really, but maybe how you say it, but it’s a great feeling when someone laughs at you when you’re trying to be funny, and they also cry sometimes, but they get easily distracted when they cry and before you know it, they’re back up again, playing like crazy. I think being around kids is more relaxing than tiring – at least for now?

And, well, clichè as it may seem, I think one can learn from spending time with kids that young. One girl, about 4 years old, was a bit shy and hesitant about going to play with me in another room. Some kids are very excited about the special attention they get by being pulled out of the classroom for a while to play a game, but others are often shy and timid, even if only at first. Some even refuse to come, even though their parents gave consent (and those who know me know that I’m not one bit scary, but who knows what they’re thinking). This girl came nevertheless. During the distractor task, where she played by herself with some legos and I just observed from across the table, I noticed that she kept soothing herself by saying “don’t worry, just playing..” a few times. And I thought that was amazing! Maybe this is new only to me, but still. And even though she said once that she wanted to go back, in the middle of the task, it really didn’t take much on my part to persuade her to stay until the end of the task. I think her ability to self-soothe helped her a lot. Something more us so-called grown-ups need to practice.

Busy times. Looking forward to a big vacation. But before that, there’s an abstract that needs to be written, and written well. And once I submit that abstract, I decided that I’ll reward myself by subscribing to Granta.

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