It’s Not About My Toe

It’s not about the hole in my shoe, or the one in my sock. It’s not even about my big toe peeking out from both. It’s about recess.

There are a host of developmental and behavioral reasons why daily recess is such an essential time of the school day. I take my preschool students outside on all but the very coldest of cold days. It is one of the first quite chilly days when my toe, my big left toe, becomes an issue.

Before I tell you about my toe, it’s important that you understand something about Preschoolers. They are easily distracted. An entire morning’s lesson can be derailed by an ant on the floor, a loose thread on a shirt, or someone’s band-aid. They haven’t yet learned to overlook these small details. It’s a challenge to my creativity and patience to acknowledge the ant, snip the thread, and sympathize with the injury while guiding them all back to our lesson, if I remember what it was by then.

Today is the first really cold day of Autumn. Getting ready for recess involves the added complication of learning to put on coats, boots, and gloves. Gloves are hard when fingers don’t yet move independently. Zippers are tricky to start. New boots are stiff. And small children are anxious to get outside since there are a few tiny flakes of snow riding the wind outside. All this is going on in a sort of cheerfully controlled chaos when it happens.

My Toe.

I put on my own shoes between all the small zippers and gloves. One of my students notices that I have a hole, not only in my shoe, but one in my sock as well. My big toe is now visible through both holes.

Preschoolers are easily distracted. Heading outside to see the first few snowflakes is forgotten as they crowd around my foot examining both holes, poking their fingers through to touch my toe, and discussing this phenomenon.

This leads to general speculation about how it happened and what to do about it. One reassures me that his mother has ‘a really a lot a lots of shoes’ and he will bring me a pair the next day. I imagine him smuggling a pair in his Batman backpack. Another offers to let me borrow her socks. Some suggest fixing the holes with glue or tape. Debate continues, small heads gather close around my left foot, until I decide it’s time to cut it short and herd them all outside.

“But, Ms. Sue.,” One says tearfully, “You can’t go outside because your toe will be cold.” They all nod seriously. Stunned, I sit back down. It’s not about my shoe or my sock. They weren’t distracted by a hole; they were focused on fixing a problem. While I was trying to help them get ready for the next thing, they were working on fixing the big and important problem before them.

They were helping a friend. My toe might be cold; this was more important than playing outside. Through, a sudden lump in my throat, I take off my shoe, quickly pull my sock around so the matching holes don’t line up. And ask them if they think that will do. Several insist on testing the hole again with fingers. Satisfied, we head outside into the chill and flurries of snow.

Preschoolers notice details because that’s is what’s important to them: the poor ant lost on the floor, looking for home; the favorite shirt that looks broken with a loose thread; last weekend’s injury, how much it hurt; and my cold toe.

Recess is important, it takes us outside where we can see the wider world. The details are important to children and to us because the wider world is made up of all the small details.

It’s as important to care as to be cared for. Let’s remember that as we rush to the next big thing. Remember to both look and see where we can make a difference. No matter how small. All of the big things are made of all the small and important details.

I still have a hole in my shoe, but I’ve got thick socks and this satisfies my preschoolers as they pause in play to poke their fingers into my shoe to check on my toe, every so often. It satisfies me, too, because my toe actually was cold. I didn’t notice, until their concern brought it to mind.

Recess is important. Details are important. They’re as important as ants, and socks, and band aids, and loving.