The Shur Thing: Little people can learn big words

When I first moved to Naples I honestly missed seeing children around since I live in a community that primarily attracts senior citizens. On Halloween only one child rang our doorbell whereas up north, we gave away many bags of candy. But most of all I missed my grandchildren who were no longer within driving distance.

So I decided to volunteer at a local school. I was assigned to a first-grade classroom where I helped the children with reading. The task was easy except I had to be there earlier in the morning than I liked. Being newly retired, having a set schedule was no longer my cup of tea either. The children, however, made any annoyances worth while.

They were fun and eager to learn and started my day off with such joy when I was in the classroom. Having an educational and career background in speech and language development was a plus in working with the children.

The teacher was exceptional. She was an esteemed “Golden Apple” teacher. As you know, these are teachers who receive awards for being among the best each year. It is a coveted award. This teacher truly deserved her Golden Apple. I was always amazed at the respect and attention she received from the children.

While working with these kids, I often thought about writing a series of books called “Big Words for Little People.” It seemed to me that children could learn a big word such as, for example, “cornucopia” just as easily as the word “basket.” Like many possibly good ideas I’ve had over the years, I just never got around to that one. But there is still time, so don’t steal my idea. And yes, I have since read “Fancy Nancy” to my granddaughter, a book series that also uses “big words.”

At the end of the school year I presented the teacher and her students with a book I wrote just for them called “What is a Volunteer?” I had asked the kids if they knew what the word “volunteer” meant and none of them did. So I made up a book explaining the word. It was a cute book with a drawing of me milking a cow or planting flowers or painting a house, for example. Each page explained that I was doing this or that activity to assist someone who needed help and that I was volunteering my help and not getting paid.

The kids enjoyed it and got the idea of things that a volunteer could do to help other people without recompense.

The teacher made up a book with all the children’s pictures in it as a gift for me which was just delightful. She also paid me probably the highest compliment I ever received even for a job that paid a salary, she asked me to return for the next school year.

Well, there are two sad endings to this tale. That summer I fell off a porch in Cape Cod and broke my hip. So, I called the teacher to tell her that I would not be available to volunteer in the classroom. But she was no longer in the elementary school. They had moved her up to an administrative job, probably with a higher salary. I was so unhappy that the children would no longer benefit from her skilled teaching abilities. Of course I was also very sad that I wouldn’t be returning to her classroom.

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Iris Shur can be contacted at

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