Jen McMillin


Just a Crayon

Part of my job includes assessing young kids for Kindergarten in our county.  I just help out with the hundreds of kids in that are tested, mainly because we use their scores to determine if they are eligible for our summer camp.

This afternoon, I went to a preschool to screen a few kids.  I was tired, worn out from meetings and ready to just go home.  But I know that talking to strangers is intimidating for kids, so I put on a smile and tried to get through the testing as quickly and painlessly as possible.

My second to last child was a happy little guy that came in with both parents.  He wore a red shirt that showed where he would lift it up to chew on the collar and a pair of worn jeans a size too big.  I offered out my hand, and told him that we were going to walk down the hall and talk about Kindergarten.

"Are you excited about going to school next fall?"

"Uh huh!"

"Well, that's good - do you know where you will be at?"

"No, but it's a new school."

"That should be fun - you'll get to meet some new friends."

We found our seats and started the assessment.  It was soon clear that he was conversational but wasn't quite "ready" for Kindergarten.  He held the pencil well, but couldn't write his name more than two non-consecutive letters and couldn't count to 15. 

After several months on the job, I've learned to not blame the parents.  There are so many things going on that young parents don't have the time to teach or don't know what is expected of kids going to school for the first time.  The little guy would catch up in no time, but would need some extra help in the classroom.

We finished with the assessment, and, as expected I needed some extra time to finish up paperwork.  I asked him if he wanted to color while I wrote out notes, and handed him a picture of Clifford and a box of 8 crayons.

I wrote out notes to the school and to his parents, and tallied up his score.  Taking my notes and a kindergarten camp application, I asked him if he was ready to go find his parents.

"Yes, but I didn't finish my coloring."

"That's fine, I'd like you to take it home and finish."  Thinking to myself, Come on let's go...

He smiled and picked up the red crayon and his picture.

"Oh hon, can you leave that crayon here for the next boy or girl?  They might want to use that color."

He frowned at me.  "Can I take the brown one?"

"Well, let's try to keep them all together so someone else can color.  Don't you have crayons at home?"  As soon as I said it, I knew the answer.

"No, I don't have any at home."

My heart broke right there.  This little 5-year-old didn't have any crayons at home.  My step-son has a box of 64 Crayolas, a box of fingerpaints and colored pencils t hat he has never opened.  I looked to his parents.  They were "normal" young parents, probably three years younger than I am.  The mom was holding another young child, who was fussing about the wait.  They were probably just scraping by as it was.

I looked down at my student, and tried to smile.  "You know what hon?  My crayons are a little worn out.  Let's see if we can find you a brand new box of crayons. My organization had paid for bags of "supplies" for area kids to take after their test, that included crayons.  I thought that it was just a nice gesture for parents, but now saw that some kids really did need some crayons given to them.

Now, we're at the end of our testing cycle, and I was worried that we had given all our bags away.  But, right there inside the office was a box of our green bags, filled with a pencil, paper, a brand new book and those beautiful crayons.  I pulled one out for him, and gave it to him, showing him the brand new crayons with a bright red one for Clifford.

I couldn't look at the happiness on his face.  I was sure I was going to break down and cry in that office, in front of his family.  Instead, I put on a happy smile and turned to his parents, inviting them to apply to our camp and suggesting things that they can do to help their child be ready in the fall for school. 

They were relieved, I think, not to be talked down to and lectured.  I understand how busy they must be, and in the end we all want whats best for him.  I just hope that they see how much happiness those crayons bring him and find a way to replace them when they are gone.

It's days like today that remind me that my job isn't always about meetings and tests and data.  It's about making life better for everyone, including little boys willing to take an ugly crayon home just to have something to color with.

(Photo from

Jen McMillin