My husband teaches elementary school theater – kindergarten through fourth grade. I’ve been privy to some “behind the scenes” conversations about kids, and the one thing I’ve learned from him is that they are ALL so very different. As DCT prepares for JUNIE B. JONES IS NOT A CROOK, I think about all the kindergarteners I know, and she is just like them – very different.
Kindergarten is like the adolescence of childhood in that it’s a big transition from being a baby to being a kid. Your brain is in overdrive as it takes in information from every direction, and Junie B. is smart and confident, and eager to use her new information as soon as possible. She doesn’t always think things through before she acts on them, but that’s part of being a kid that just finished being a preschooler. She’s a work in progress.
In our JUNIE B. play, Junie B. has her favorite pair of black fuzzy mittens taken, and her first reaction is not ideal. How nice have you been when you find your phone or favorite coffee mug suddenly gone? It hurts, and it makes you mad, and kids don’t always know what to do with anger; especially a kid like Junie B. who marches to her own beat. She summons enough big-girl responsibility to check the lost and found, and when she doesn’t find her mittens, she decides to “find” a cool, flashy pen that someone else lost. She sees it as poetic justice. Here begins the journey of the lesson she must learn.
One of the things I hear when my husband and his colleagues are talking about kids is, “She’s got a MOUTH on her!” This could mean many things. Some of the kids just outright cuss like sailors, but more often than not it’s about back-talk. I’ll be frank, Junie B. is sassy sometimes, and her mouth often works faster than her brain. This is when we have to be reminded of how young children learn vocabulary. I go into a kindergarten classroom and everything is labeled. Chair.Table.Desk.Door. You get the idea.
The elements that aren’t labeled are feelings, concepts, ideas; the things that are inside that we can’t see. These things are more difficult to communicate, especially when our vocabulary is new and limited. This is when an eager, outspoken kid like Junie B. reaches for the newly-acquired vocabulary words she knows. They don’t always fit, but again, Junie B. is a bit of a square peg.
The cool thing about Junie B. is she doesn’t mind a bit. She’s fine with being different, and that’s one of the best lessons we can learn from her. She surrounds herself with colorful, multi-faceted friends who are as different as she is, and they remind us how balanced our Junie B. really is. If we could all have non-judging friends like Junie B.!
She has a lot to learn, as all five and six-year-olds do, and our kids will have so much fun watching her make mistakes. My kids will sneak a peek at me while they’re laughing to see if I just noticed what she said and if it’s okay that they laughed. I’ll smile at them. Then we’ll have a great conversation about how she fixed her mistakes, and how we have to think before we act and even think before we speak, because words and attitudes are important. I think Junie B. can teach this to our kids much more powerfully than a lecture on behavior.
JUNIE B. JONES IS NOT A CROOK. I believe that. I believe she isn’t a crook. She’s a young kid on the road to discovering the recipe that is her life and who she is. As parents and onlookers, let’s remember to do what we can to give them the freedom they need to ultimately get it right. Oh yeah, JUNIE B. JONES IS NOT A CROOK is also the name of our show, running January 20 – February 26. You’ll have to see the show to find out what happens with the mittens and the pen. Get your tickets today at dct.org.
Written by Sherry Ward.