By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
Every Thursday night, my son Jack cruises slowly around the house, inspecting everything around him with a contemplative look on his face. I’ve seen this happen lots of times during the past eight months, so I know exactly what he’s doing. He’s thinking about what he should take to school the next day for kindergarten “show and tell,” one of his favorite parts of the week.
Over the course of the school year, Jack has taken lots of things to show and tell and I’m almost always surprised by what he chooses. (The teacher’s only stipulation is that the item must be small enough to fit in a backpack.) He has taken a ball, a dollar-store flute, favorite books, a plastic dinosaur, soccer ball stickers, a toy truck that makes obnoxious sound effects, and most of the stuffed animals he deems worthy of a spot on his bed.
Sometimes he asks me for help in choosing something to take to class, and I offer up my ideas based on what I think might entertain or intrigue his kindergarten audience. But Jack almost always shoots down my ideas and goes with his own. And I think I’ve finally figured out why.
When I was cleaning out his backpack a few days ago, I found his most recent choice for “show and tell.” It was a small plastic figurine of Shrek, which had been used as part of a birthday cake topper two years ago when Jack turned 4-years-old. When I held it in my hand, I could imagine Jack standing in front of his class talking about this figurine. The Shrek figure would make him talk about the new Shrek movie hitting theaters this month. And that would lead into even more excited talk about how he’s going to see this new movie during his upcoming birthday party. And that would lead to talk of a birthday cake, which is one of Jack’s favorite foods.
All this time I’ve assumed that “show and tell” is something teachers do to help kids learn to express themselves, talk in front of a group, listen carefully and ask questions. And maybe that is a big part of why they do it. But Jack has helped me see a deeper meaning behind show and tell. Because he always chooses to show things that tell who he really is. That’s why my suggestions don’t always work. I’m not him, and he has to tell his own story.
If you lined up all the stuff Jack has taken to school this year, the array of items – which seemed totally random at the time – would fit him perfectly and show him as a sweet, simple, tender-hearted boy who likes dinosaurs, soccer, teddy bears, loud sound effects, birthday cake and movies starring green ogres and wise-cracking donkeys. He doesn’t choose things based on what he thinks other kids would like or be impressed by. (Kindergartners are wonderfully unpretentious.) He chooses things that mean something to him. And that’s good because “show and tell” should be less about showing off and more about self-discovery.
Jack’s simple, honest choices made me think about how, even as a grown-up, what I “show” the world is very telling of who I am. So it shouldn’t be about what I have or whether or not the people around me are impressed with it. It’s about what things mean to me and why. Whether we’re aware of it or not, we’re always showing people what we value, what we love – both of which tell them who we are.
So I’ve gotta ask you: What are you taking to “show and tell” this week? And, more importantly, why? We could all learn a lot from kindergartners, don’t you think?