Smarter Than a Fifth Grader

I love working with kids. They ask inquisitive questions, see the world through innocent and fresh eyes, and challenge the boundaries of authority at every step. Working with kids keeps me on my toes, always having to problem solve and rationalize with kids aged 6-12. While I, and anyone who works with wee ones surely will, have a treasure trove of stories, only some of which will be noted here.

In Which Learning Exercises are Exercises in Patience

During our summer Sunday school series (when we’re not selling seashells by the seashore), we have a game that wraps up the teaching time, where kids can get “points” for answering review questions correctly. Now, a simple game designed to be fun, creates plenty of opportunities for kids to test their boundaries.

Several years ago, we played “just for fun” and offered no prizes due to a shortage in the budget. A girl, probably about 8 and already wise beyond her years when it comes to the legal code of Sunday school games, promptly and confidently approached me at the end of the game, of which her team had won, with a simple question. “What do I get for winning?” For this one, I had to clear out the old cobwebs and roll it back to my own Junior-Sunday-School-Game-Lawyer career when I had no doubt uttered a similar question. With a hint of a questioning tone, I uttered “Uh… the satisfaction of a job well done?” and offered my hand in the universal “High-five?” signal. With a groan and an eye-roll, the girl slapped my hand.

More recently, I encountered the spirit of Sappho alive and well in a different girl, this time about 7. Wanting to skip the game, and head straight outside to our playground, she tried a line she thought sure to work. “Mister. I’ve already played this game. So maybe we could just… skip it?” Trying to turn the negative attitude into a positive one, I countered with “Well, we have different questions so it’s technically a different game.” Unrelenting, the girl swerved. “But it’s the same game and I’ve played it.” Drats. I think I’m foiled by a suborn 7-year-old, and almost fold, when the light glistening from the slide outside nearly blinds me like Saul on the road to Damascus. Boom, I have a solution. “Well, I see your point. But we’ve been outside this summer too, so I guess we can skip playground time today as well.” Cornered, but smartly holding on to her power, the girl pivots. “Actually, Mister, I think the game sounds fun.”

Bryce: 2, Kids: 0

 On the Subject of Play

Here are some brief stories about the aforementioned playground, and children’s limitless… creativity… when it comes to the use of equipment and requests for teacher involvement.

  • If hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, than heaven hath no playground that can question a child’s climbing instinct. Despite having a climbing wall, and a jungle gym, our most requested “objects-to-climb” are: onto the roof of the preschool playhouse, the underside of the slide, the frame of the swing set, and the side of the literal actual building, which I doubt even a viral raccoon could scale.
  • Endless games of tag have also led to conflict after conflict. The biggest complaint, and I’ve gotten it multiple times, is that “Teacher, the person who’s ‘it’ keeps changing.” Now, last time I checked that was the point of tag, but part of your unofficial job-description as a playground-monitor is, and always will be, identifying which kid is it. And it’s surprisingly hard. A four-foot-kid gets a dose of endorphins after running for three minutes and their brains go haywire, scattering in every direction, even if they’re not it or running from the person who is.
  • I have countless injury stories, some minor and some not, but a situation that isn’t exactly funny but certainly interesting, is the time a lone coyote was just chilling on a hill near our playground while our kids were on it. I was a supervisor for the evening, so I was out of the room, but when I saw it, I immediately had our kids pulled inside, and stood (back facing the coyote) to form a shield lest the coyote get any ideas.

Only Smarter Than A Fifth Grader

Needing to be smarter than a fifth grader is a prerequisite to being good at working with kids. But there’s a bigger danger than fifth graders in the world of childhood supervision. It was a cruel lesson I learned this summer.

Parents of a preschooler were running a bit early and our leader was running a bit late, leading to an empty classroom. I hoped into The Land of Early Childhood, a terrifying realm of glue sticks and fish-crackers soaked in lemonade. Alone and stranded on a strange planet, I resorted to the only common language between me and the native inhabitants: play. My cultural-guide, a four-year-old girl in a princess-fairy dress, picked up a plastic tiger and set out in an initiation ritual sacred to the land. It’s called “Girl Attacks Teacher With A Plastic Teacher by Repeatably Ramming It Into Him.” Now, this ritual is fine when encountered one-on-one. But I severely overestimated my ability to anticipate behavior when I was summed back to the familiar Elementary Land.

About an hour later, I was on dismissal duty, helping reunite parents (whether they wanted to be reunited or not) with their children. I got a page for a preschooler and went to pick him up from class. With the child in one hand, and the other bending down to pick up his craft, a tiger, harnessed by the same confident young warrior mentioned earlier, plunged into my stomach, doubling me over. The preschool teacher, having witnessed my fall in all it’s glory, laughed and laughed.

The moral? I may be smarter than a fifth grader, but I’m dumber than any four-year-old on the block.

Bryce Van Vleet is a psychology undergraduate based in the Pacific Northwest. He is a lover of words, terrible video-game player, and frequent drinker of soda and other sugary drinks.

The next Funny Friday will be posted on September 7th.

Editor’s note: Some names and places have been changed. See our disclaimer for more information. All identifying information has been stripped to protect the identities of minors and innocent (or not so innocent) parties.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: