Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Mrs. Amber's Bracelets

The current bracelet collection.
When I began working with kiddos many moons ago, I noticed that I was drawn to the more...let's see, what word is politically correct...rambunctious children.  For whatever reason, my heart longed to reach out to these kiddos who were struggling to sit still and focus and help them to succeed in the classroom.  Maybe it was because one of my brothers was hyperactive while we were growing up and the other brother had medical problems that made focusing a challenge for him.  Maybe it was because my sister struggled in school and built up a tough spirit and attitude to combat the bullies that made fun of her.  Maybe it was because I was a kindred spirit who had my fair share of moments of daydreaming and being off-task.  Maybe it was because I am a fan of people who are not boring.  Maybe it was a combination of all of the above.  No matter the logic, I loved working with these kiddos.

When I was a second grade assistant, my reading group was made up such kiddos.  Because of their challenging behavior, it was hard for them to complete assignments and tests.  It was hard to measure where they were and what growth they had made.  It was hard to get through a short story without one of them bolting off across the room.  The Christmas of that second grade assistant year, I received a gift from one of "my" boys.  He gave me five bangle bracelets that he had picked out just for me.  They were made of bright, wild multi-colored beads.  He told me he got them for me because when he saw them, he thought of me since I was a little bit crazy!  I loved that.  I instantly put on that precious gift.  Something amazing happened.  In the moments that followed, I opened up our read-along book, and he sat down right beside me.  He put his hand on my arm and ran those bracelets up and down.  He didn't move anything else on his body.  His hands were busy, his eyes were on the text, and his mind was focused on the words in front of us.  The next day, I split the bracelets up and put a couple on each arm.  Like magic, the same little fellow and the child on the other side of me were magically attracted to the bracelets.  Now, I am not saying that there never were behavior issues with that group, but seeing how those children could shift the focus of their mind if their hands were busy registered in my head.

After working in second grade, I moved to the intensive intervention classroom.  Again, I loved it.  I loved being with children who were so very smart, but they had physical or behavioral limitations that made it so hard for them to convey the thoughts in their minds.  I spent most of my time working one-on-one with a little man whom I adored.  He was extremely intelligent, but he was non-verbal.  He would become violently frustrated when he could not communicate with others.  He often preferred to be away from the other children.  My theory is because he would get in trouble when he would act out, and he would act out when he was frustrated.  He was frustrated because he had so much to say and couldn't.  I remember at the beginning of the year when we would circle up for group time in the morning.  The children would sit in chairs.  My task was to sit behind this amazing young man.  If he began to lose control, I would slip my arms around his and lightly hold him in his chair (don't worry; I had received extensive training on the proper way to do this, and his parents were aware and in support of this technique).  His first reaction when my arms would go around his was to pull away.  His second instinct was to attack me by scratching or pinching.  Eventually, he would accept that I wasn't going anywhere, at least not until group time was over.  When he would calm down, his hands would find their way to my bracelets.  And, there he would sit with his fingers flicking, pulling or rolling my jewelry.  We had many interesting encounters over that school year.  There was battles and victories.  One of my sweetest memories was a day in the spring when many of the kiddos had become strong in the ways of the routine.  I wasn't needed as much to sit behind my little friend during group time, because he was doing so well on his own.  However, there was one day where he came over to the table where I was working on something, grabbed my hand, pulled a chair behind his, sat down in his chair and pulled my arms around his.  His sweet hands finding their way to my bracelets.  There he sat.  Playing with bracelets and holding tight to my arm.

Over the years, I have acquired quite the bracelet collection.  If I see any on a good deal, I buy them.  (I just went to Kohl's and they had 4 different sets of crazy colors for $2.00/each).  Others have been given to me.  There were two amazing kiddos at my last job.  They came from a very difficult home life.  One never wanted to join the group, the other wanted to run constant laps around the group.  One Sunday morning during our small group time, one of these incredible young ones noticed the colorful collection on my arm.  He asked if he could touch them.  I told him he could if he would sit beside me for the Bible story.  Then, he called to his sister who also wanted to be up close to the bling.  I began the Bible story with each one of them on either side.  Both happily content to be fidgeting with my bracelets while their eyes locked in on mine as I shared the story.  The following week, they brought me a set of silver bangles from their mom's jewelry box (don't worry--she knew and gave them permission).  During large group time, I would always sit on the floor with the 50-60 children who would come to children's worship.  There were several who wanted to sit near me...not because I am that great, but they wanted to play with the bangles.  On my last Sunday teaching, I had one child on my right side, two on my left, one in my lap, and one behind me...the one behind me was playing with my hair while the other three were rolling bracelets up and down my arm.  And, while they may not have been able to repeat the Bible story word for word, they had the gist of the message!

There is something so inspirational about working with children.  They are honest, hilarious, and hopeful.  They love with all they have.  They hurt loudly.  They learn in a hundred different ways.  They process in their own time.  They crave positive attention.  They need to hear how much they matter.  Now, my bracelets were not magical, and I am not an expert.  But, I have loved every moment with every child I have been blessed to spend time with.  I have been encouraged by every proverbial light bulb that has been lit.  I have been inspired by every story that has been told.  I have been challenged to grow as I have watched them meet their personal goals.  I am so grateful for the little boy so long ago who brought me that awesome gift of bracelets.  I am beyond thankful that God has allowed me opportunities to love on and teach children.  I am praying that He continues to grant me those moments all the days of my life!

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