The author reads to eager MCPK students, COURTESY MERRILL SILVER

The Montclair Community Pre-K
49 Orange Road, 973-509-4500
The MCPK welcomes high school seniors, senior citizens, and community volunteers. If interested, contact Carolyn DeVito, assistant executive director, at, or call the number above.

For Montclair Local

A few years ago, I decided I needed a new activity to perk up my week. I confess — I was in a rut!

So it was serendipity when I bumped into a friend in front of the Montclair Public Library. She was balancing a stack of children’s books in her arms.

“Jane,” I asked, “What are you doing with all these books? Your grandchildren live far away.”

“I volunteer at the Montclair Community Pre-K. I read to the kids once a week,” she said.

A week later, I was delighted to say the exact same words. I’ve been delighted and grateful ever since.

Not only does volunteering at the MCPK add sparkle to my week, it allows me to say thank you to the Montclair Public Schools. Both my children attended pre-K through high school in Montclair. They received a stellar education in our diverse community and were prepared for the real world upon graduation.

I am amused that 30 years after my children were in Pre-K, it’s Mom’s turn now!

I appreciate director Carolyn DeVito “registering” me in the program. 






When I arrived, the 3-year-olds in the classroom were napping. They fit so snugly on their blanketed mats with their stuffed animals that it was almost a shame to wake them. But Mr. Coto announced, “Miss Merrill is here with some really good stories.” The children started to wake. With the lights turned on, Ms. Anderson sang a song or gently rubbed someone’s back to coax them out of their slumber. If only I could take a mid-afternoon nap and be awakened so lovingly.

Eventually, all the children sat on the red carpet, a rapt audience for my stories. I squeezed into a tiny armchair a few inches off the floor — that way I can be close to everyone, the better to see the picture books.

I felt like Mary Poppins with my big canvas bag. Her bag was full of everyday items that became magical. My bag is also magical; it’s full of library books I have carefully selected. The children lifted the bag and guess how many books there are or how many pounds the bag weighed. Today’s estimates were 12 books and between three to 72 pounds.

I often include an alphabet or number book. The children help me read and sing. Sometimes, we read books where characters speak a few words in a foreign language. For example, Italian, French, Spanish, Japanese, Swahili, or Hebrew may suddenly enter our vocabulary for that afternoon.

Our protagonists wear hijabs, saris, helmets, or socks on their heads, underwear inside-out or pajamas to school. They might be ashamed of the eyeglasses they wear. One male main character insisted on wearing skirts and dresses to school.

I am partial to stories about families. In “A Tale of Two Mommies” and “We Belong Together” we learned about same-sex parents and adoption. Stories about new babies in a family encourage conversations about the changes, tension and, of course, love, that a new sibling brings. Grandparents are always favorite characters.

Of course, family stories with animal characters are a big part of our selection. In the world of children’s literature, not only do animals dance, talk, bake, and take bubble baths, but they love, argue, get jealous, get lost, get scared and dream about far-away places. They have great fun, just like humans!

What is it that makes 3-year-olds such good listeners? They don’t have cellphones or computer screens to distract them. They do have good manners, thanks to Ms. Macklin and the other teachers. It’s easy to listen under these circumstances.

And how is it possible that these children have so much to say? They have opinions about everything, including the books we read. “Which book do you like best or do you like them all the same?” I ask each week. Maybe there is a book someone doesn’t like. We learn it’s okay to disagree. 

We recently read “Hug Machine” by Scott Campbell. I think the author must have had the MCPK in mind, where “K is for kindness” and my afternoon feels like one big hug.

As I wiggle and wriggle my way out of my tiny armchair when we finish reading together, I am filled with gratitude for this experience.