There used to be two things that could wake me up in the morning: the smell of bacon and an alarm. However, after just five days in San Miguel, the local panadería and promise of smiling faces in Mary’s classroom are much more effective. Every morning, after ten “hola”s and “Buenos días”s, I help the children eat their breakfast, which soon turns into a morning stretch and/or dance party. Next, we review shapes and vocabulary, from “un triangulo” to “puedo usar el baño?” (May I use the bathroom?). Today, Mary drew a square, circle, triangle, and rectangle on the floor with chalk and then proceeded to call out “cuadrado, circulo, triangulo, o rectángulo” as each child ran from one shape to the other.
Mary’s class consists of eleven children, each with unique personalities. Francisco is very intelligent and enjoys participating, while Emiliano prefers to stay quiet and take everything in. Despite being unable to talk, Bruno loves being thrown into the air, which he expresses by running up to me and raising his arms, then bursting into a giddy laugh as we act like he’s an airplane gliding through the sky. Fatima prefers to stay close to me, always wanting to hold my hand when we go to the park before lunch. Diego waits for me on the trampoline as he mutters “papa,” grabbing my hand and jumping as high as he can. On our way back from the park, the children march to a left-right-left cadence, all holding each others’ shoulders behind their leader– “Maestra Mary.” On returning to the class, los niños grab their pillows and blankets and lay down for an hour and a half nap.
After nap time is over, Mary and I wake the children, sometimes literally picking them up and setting them in a chair. A few dazed yawns turn into bigger laughs and smiles. Meanwhile, lunch is delivered, usually consisting of a type of meat, tortillas, and vegetables. When the children are done eating, Mary turns on the television for toy time. The joy the children receive from playing with beaten up dolls, used action figures, and worn-out cars humbles me every day. Throughout play time, Mary and I change los niños into fresh clothes and restyle their hair. This is also how I learned one of my most accomplished skills: tying shoe laces as three different kids are holding onto my legs, arms, hair, and face. For the final thirty minutes before the children are picked up from the daycare, I find myself trying to have a final personal interaction with each individual child, whether it be a simple smile or running around in a circle waving my arms acting like a caballero (a cowboy).
However, one of my favorite parts of the day is pick up time because each kid hugs and kisses Maestra Mary goodbye. Perhaps this is why volunteering at the center is so enjoyable, Mary creates an environment both conducive to learning and divertido (fun), while the class operates like a big family. It is truly a center of angels.
Post by Jack Callahan. Jack is currently a senior at St. Louis University High School in St. Louis, Missouri. He is senior class president and planning to attend the University of Alabama next year. He has spent the month of January at Centro Infantil de los Angeles working with the 2.5-3 year olds, painting classrooms, and perfecting his Spanish, while picking up a salsa move or two along the way.