Kids rock their Smile Rocks

Logan Puzio, Calista Policella, Gemma Phelan, and Henry Kerr look for the right spot. VOICE PHOTO


If you are walking near Peace Park and come across a painted rock, you owe it to the kindergarteners at St. Alexander Elementary School—and yourself—to smile. The students painted the stones, called “Smile Rocks,” during the second week of school, and last Tuesday went on a field trip to distribute them. One teacher, Tracy Goodwin, announced to her students that they had to get ready to go outside as they were in the middle of their morning activities.

The students were so excited that they stopped what they were doing without question, apart from one boy, who was reluctant to leave his building blocks.

“You can finish with those when we get back,” Goodwin told him.

The boy relented and hurried off to his cubby, where his classmates had already assembled, and the group put on their outdoor shoes. Goodwin and her assistant, Erika Bachynski, passed out rocks from a box.

“Who had the hearts for eyes,” said Goodwin. “Was that you George?” George shook his head, and Goodwin tried asking someone else.

The rocks, which were about child-fist in size, were covered in all sorts of different colours and designs, though almost all had a smile on them somewhere. One particularly pious boy had painted two small crosses on his, and proudly held it up for all to see. Another had put x’s and o’s, to show, he said, “love.”

Finally, once the rocks were firmly in the hands of their rightful owners, the class dutifully lined up and went out the door. Outside, they joined another kindergarten class, whose students had their rocks in hand too.

“All right. We’re going to walk in single-file, okay. You can only leave the line to put out your rock—we’ve got to stay together,” said Goodwin.

Eager to be off, the students nodded in agreement. Once outside the gate, they soon passed a tree. “Who wants to put their rock there?” asked Goodwin. Hands shot up at the front of the line. “Go ahead,” she told one girl. “Make sure you put it right up against the tree, and face-up, too! We want people to see the painting on it.”

Lily Jones leaves her ‘Smile Rock’ under a tree near a sidewalk. VOICE PHOTO

At the first corner, Bachynski and Goodwin took their students in one direction, while the other class went in another. It was Bachynski who approached Goodwin with the idea, having first seen pictures on the web of other schools doing it.

“It’s a really great thing to have the students involved in community,” she said. “That’s part of or curriculum here. So not only is this an art activity, and one the kids really love, it’s one where they can be thinking about interacting with others in the community.”

The activity as Bachynski saw it was called “Happy Rocks,” but Goodwin changed its name to “Smile Rocks.”

“I’m sort of known for putting smiley faces on everything,” she said. “And that’s what we’re trying to do with these rocks—bring smiles to people who find them.”

By then, her class had reached the Bandshell. She let a few students who still had their rocks go over to the war memorial to find a spot for them. “I’m going to put mine in a tree,” said a boy.

“Me too!” said his friend. The two spent a few minutes trying to find a branch on the sapling strong enough to support the rock. The girl in the group just put hers on the bench nearby, and then watched as the boys tried different positions. Once they had finished, Goodwin called all the students back in. They assembled quickly and lined up. One girl, who had both of her arms in pink casts, held the hand of the boy beside her.

“Who still has a rock?” Goodwin asked.

A boy, who in a sign of the times had painted an emoji on his stone, held it up.

“Okay, she told him. “We’ll find a special place for yours.”

Goodwin was going to lead him to the library, but then worried that the rock would be too near its windows.

“That’s not what we want,” she said more to herself than any student. “It would be just my luck if one of these went through a window.”

She pointed to a tree under which the emoji could be placed. “Right there!” she said.

The boy scuttled over and place his rock carefully.

As the class made the walk back to the school, one student said, “I can come back here later and find my rock again!”

“You could,” Goodwin said. “But remember, if you take a Smile Rock, you have to leave one too. Make sure that you tell your parents and grandparents and friends that, too.” He started to respond, but was distracted by a cup on the ground, and trailed off his sentence in a way that only kids can do.

The class arrived back in the playground. “The rest of the school is at Mass,” said Goodwin. “We have the whole place to ourselves. Should we get out the parachute?”

She looked to Bachynski. Bachynski shook her head.

“I think they want to get back inside and have a snack,” she said. Goodwin nodded.

“Yes, you’re right. Next time we’ll do that.” The kids followed her inside, talking about their rocks and snacks as they pulled off their shoes. They were in a good mood.

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