Bookday Birthday

Staff Writer Kate Wehlann

A little girl in Jenisa Collier's class gave me this after I read to her class today. I asked her if she was sure she wouldn't need it. She said no and she wanted me to have it. Best crayon ever.

Jenisa Collier's Bradie Shrum kindergarten class

Peggy Monroe's Clarksville Elementary kindergarten class

Southern Hills Preschool (afternoon crew)

Lesley Lynn-Slaughter's Bradie Shrum kindergarten class

Jennifer Carter's Bradie Shrum kindergarten class

Jill Little's Bradie Shrum first grade class

Southern Hills Preschool (morning crew)

Amy Weaver's Bradie Shrum kindergarten class

Savannah Hartsfield's and Jennifer Carter's Bradie Shrum kindergarten classes

I don’t know what it is about the few weeks between Valentine’s Day and my birthday that leave me a mess, meds or no meds. It’s a mental thing that seeps into everything else. Feeling raw and brittle in my head leaves me with less ability to focus, stay up on work and chores and do much of anything outside of work that involves leaving my home. With copious amounts of caffeine, I can maintain at work, but going home to decompress is crucial. It’s the type of broken numbness that would make me want to rage at people who say mental illness isn’t real if I could only summon up the energy for it.

I know, this is a bit of a downer. Stay with me. I’m going somewhere better.

As the days approaching my birthday ticked down, I knew I couldn’t spend this day sitting at a desk, my depression and anxiety causing me to disassociate and fight to actually get some work done. I needed to give something of myself, but also spend that day around people who were excited about life and who had the best view of birthdays.

I’m referring to preschoolers and early elementary kids.

And what better way to give on March 2, Read Across America Day, than with some books?

Stories have captivated me for my entire life and I wanted to bring a little of that to kids. Having worked with this age group in the past, I have a small, but precious, collection of picture books and I sorted through them, picking some that could work. I turned to social media, talking about what I wanted to do on Facebook and Twitter and after Monika Spaulding shared the post, I started picking up teachers from, mostly kindergarten, but a few other age groups as well. I opened it up to start on Thursday, March 1, as I’m usually out of the office that day and would need to be at Bradie Shrum for elementary CAST by 2 p.m. anyway. Teachers requested time that day, Friday and even the following Thursday. [To be honest, I’m happy to continue, so if you’re a teacher, in or out of the county, let me know!]

By Friday afternoon, I’d read “Horton Hatches an Egg,” with voices, at least four times, “The Sneetches,” “On Beyond Zebra,” “Green Eggs and Ham,” all by Dr. Seuss, a book about a tooth fairy and, twice, the Michelle Nelson Schmidt favorite, “Bob is a Unicorn,” once with a unicorn horn I made clumsily and with a lot of unnecessary complication (I am not crafty). By the following Thursday, I had read to nearly 10 classes at Southern Hills Preschool, Bradie Shrum and Clarksville Elementary School, and it was amazing! In fact, these were the only days that brittle, shattered feeling had dissipated in multi-hour increments for weeks and I finally felt like I could breathe again.

“But you have anxiety, Kate, and you hate talking in front of people.”

You’re right. If they were adults, I’d hate it and be a mess. Here’s the thing about kids, though — they’re honest and they have opinions, but they aren’t particularly judgmental and that makes a big difference. They already think new people who look friendly are pretty great and, for the most part, are quick to embrace you (often literally — I got a lot of hugs). They’re still learning how to be adults, but these magical little creatures are already pretty good at being people.

There’s so many opportunities to be a part of their lives, even if you don’t have kids of your own, as long as you can pass a background check. Most elementary teachers are happy to have readers and CAST is usually looking for volunteers for both the Bradie Shrum and Salem Middle School branches. I spend every Thursday from 2 to 3 p.m. in Jennifer Nicks’s second grade class and it’s one of the best parts of my week. From there, I go to middle school CAST until 5:30 p.m., so pretty much the second half of my Thursday is full of students and I highly recommend it. A call to the office of your favorite school will likely yield some results for ways to be a part of shaping these kids’ lives at almost any age group. The YMCA is open to volunteers. The parks and recreation department. The library.

Of course, there’s some who would like to do this, but can’t because of work scheduling or other conflicts, but what better way to invest your time, if possible, than into these kids? They’re only going to think you’re cool for wearing a unicorn horn for so long.
@KateWehlann on Twitter

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