There are several much more serious stories I was going to share, but I'm not in the mood to be made sad tonight, so I'll tell you all about the stuffed animals. This is a post that needs images so someday when I have or borrow a working scanner, I will add the photos.
A few years into teaching, I joined Freecyle. For those of you who don't know Freecycle, it's a group of people in any given community who are on an email list to get rid of their old stuff and get stuff from other people. It's a fabulous form of recycling. Somebody posted that they had a huge bag of stuffed animals in good condition to give away and I decided to grab it for my class.
I thought that some of the kids would like the stuffed animals, but I certainly didn't think they'd all be into them. Kids grow up really fast in that neighborhood, and when you have six-year olds talking about how they walk to school alone because their parents say they're "grown," and how they're going to jump other kids, you certainly don't expect them to want a stuffed animal.
I laid out the stuffed animals on the carpet where we have storytime, and each kid got to pick a number. That number determined the order in which they got to choose the toys. These kids were so excited. They didn't even fight about the order because they were so happy at the prospect of picking out a stuffed animal.
There were all sorts of stuffed animals. Big fluffy teddy bears and lions, little fish, turtles, and cats, giraffes, everything. Each kid had a favorite and they actually didn't fight. There were a couple times where a child said "Oh, I wanted that one... but I like this one even better!" Everyone named their animal and put it on top of their desk for the rest of the day.
The love for the stuffed animals kept up for a while. Some kids took theirs home and slept with them and told me all about how much they loved them and took care of them. Some kids left theirs at school to stay on their desk or in their desk and keep them company during the school day. Sometimes they gave them to me to take care of for an hour or two. Sometimes they took them out to recess. If they were nervous about tests, the stuffed animal sat on the desk with them.
It was amazing. These kids grow up so fast and so inappropriately that it felt like some sort of miracle to see this kind of childlikeness in them. Kids who routinely hide in the closet or the bathtub because "the gangs be shooting" loving and caring for a stuffed animal was really beautiful.
So, thanks to the anonymous freecycler with the Hefty bag of stuffed animals.