Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Caring is lesson No. 1, says nursery teacher

'Miss Wendy' has tips for youngsters, parents

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If you're feeling a little frightened about your future -- or are just worried you won't be able to find the bathroom -- Miss Wendy has some advice for you.

If someone is singing, it's time to pay attention. If you feel afraid, go to your cubby and visit your teddy. Fighting is not a good thing. Sharing is.

Wendy Challis has been a teacher for 31 years, the past 15 as a nursery school teacher at Robertson School. She sees her job as preparing her three- and four-year-olds for Grade 1. In a sense, she's also preparing them for life.

"They learn that caring for others, first of all, and caring for yourself is very important. If we're walking down the hallway we hold hands. If one person is crying we stop and help."

Challis teaches all her young charges that every person has a special skill.

"I tell them they're all bringing their own personal gift. Every child in the room has a gift. They can learn from each other. Maybe you are good with blocks, maybe it's blending colours. Some are good at organizing games, others are good at cleanup.

"We learn how, as a family, aren't we lucky to have so many gifts? We clap and cheer. Look at how well this person has done something!"

Her involvement with her students begins long before they set foot in her classroom. Challis arrives at their homes to meet the kids, their parents and, sometimes, their grandparents. She brings a yellow bag filled with everything from a deck of cards to a pair of scissors. A laminated sheet has the child's name on it so they can practise their letters.

"I talk to the children about school. I ask them what they want to learn about. Maybe it's animals. Sometimes they want to learn about snow.

"They want to know where they will go to the bathroom. They want to know why they need a new pair of runners."

Many of her students are new Canadians. In fact, "Miss Wendy" was named by a little boy from Hong Kong. His mother taught him it was a polite reference. Soon the rest of the class adopted the name. From there, it spread through the school.

She admits the parents are often more apprehensive than the tots. They have questions about speech development, toilet training, food allergies and any number of other concerns.

"I'm doing a lot of reassuring," she says.

The biggest worry for most family members is how to handle the first farewell. Those of us who clutched a tree and sobbed when a child walked into a school solo understand the need for support.

Challis breaks it to them gently. There are a couple of days of the parents coming into the classroom, staying and playing for a while. The teddy bears and other lovies stay in the locker but can be visited.

She recommends a child bring along a sweater, scarf or jacket that smells like mom. Again, if they feel overwhelmed, it's a reminder of security. Challis also suggests children carry a little hairbrush, a rock, a candle or some sort of other totem in their pocket.

Then she offers advice to the parents.

"You know you really need to allow your feelings to be. Call your mother, call your best friend, go to Tim's. It's not always an easy step for a parent."

Parents are told to bring a granola bar or a juice box at the end of the first few days, something for the child to look forward to.

They're also warned that by Day 5 or so, their child may be more interested in staying on the play structure than heading to mom or dad.

"That's when I start introducing the parents to one another. They can talk to one another, share stories. That really helped the parents."

But the biggest lesson is that caring for others makes life a lot easier in the long run.

"You must be patient with them. Some of them are learning to share for the first time. They have to share me as well.

"But it's pretty simple. It's all very simple. Take care of one another. That's the most important thing."

lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 4, 2010 A8

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About Lindor Reynolds

National Newspaper Award winner Lindor Reynolds began work at the Free Press as a 17-year-old proofreader. It was a rough introduction to the news business.

Many years later, armed with a university education and a portfolio of published work, she was hired as a Free Press columnist. During her 20-plus years on the job she has written for every section in the paper, with the exception of Business. She’ll get around to them some day.

Lindor has received considerable recognition for her writing. Her awards include the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ general interest award and the North American Travel Journalists Association top prize.
Her work on Internet luring led to an amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada and her coverage of the child welfare system prompted a change to Manitoba Child and Family Services Act to make the safety of children paramount.

She has earned three citations of merit for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism and has been awarded a Distinguished Alumni commendation from the University of Winnipeg. Lindor was also named a YMCA/YWCA  Woman of Distinction.

She is married with four daughters. If her house was on fire and the kids and dog were safe, she’d grab her passport.
 
lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

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