The pizza-jacking squirrel, or: how I learned to talk to children

First, a funny:

I was walking down the sidewalk of the quad the other day when a squirrel crossed my path. Not a big deal, since our squirrels are so people friendly they make you walk around them, and look at you like it’s a big inconvenience that you just so happen to have class in a few minutes while they’re trying to store nuts for the winter.


I was on the phone with my mom at the time, who must have thought I was crazy when I stopped our intense conversation on a recently-found tooth belonging to John Lennon to tell her about this pizza-jacking squirrel hopping across the sidewalk to Pickard Hall.

Seriously. A whole piece of pizza. Just in its mouth. And apparently this is a reoccurring crime, because if you YouTube search “Squirrel With Pizza,” 55o results pop up of squirrels taking pizza, eating pizza and just generally committing pizza-related felonies.

I wonder if our Mizzou pizza thief has an accomplice. I bet you anything it’s the Peace Park rooster.

Just look at it run. I bet the fuzz are after it. (Photo by Kristen Zeis/Missourian)

But on to more journalistic things…

Today I covered Benton Elementary’s Uniform Day, where kids got to dress up in professional gear, Boy/Girl Scout dress, sports jerseys and other uniform-style garb. For the first time since starting at the Missourian, I found myself interviewing children.

Luckily, my time working at the Carol Stream Public Library prepared me to talk to kids. I may look at my summer gig as totally un-related to what I want to do with my life (corner office at Vanity Fair, blah blah blah), but today I realized just how important having two summers of interacting with pre-pubescent humans has been to developing my people skills. It’s a form of communication that I think is very important for journalists working in schools, like I seem to be doing a lot this semester.

Here are some things I learned over my summer as a Youth Department Aide:

  1. Tell them you like their shirt. It always helps break the ice, even if you have no idea why a 6-year-old is wearing an Angry Birds shirt.
  2. It helps to have a wide knowledge of Disney princesses, Marvel/DC superheroes and Star Wars. Legos recommended, but not required.
  3. Little kids (ages 4-6) have been programmed not to tell their name to strangers, so never lead with that. If you talk to them for enough time — I find being female, but tall, it takes one minute per number of years-old — they’ll tell you their name, albeit quietly. Don’t bother for a spelling; ask the teacher for that.
  4. Kids under the age of 9 don’t give good quotes, so don’t look for anything of substance unless you’re just listening in on a conversation they’re having with a classmate. Just know that if you ask them what they think of something , and they find it cool, they’ll answer with “Awesome!” And you better write it down because they’ll be trying to sneak a peak at what you’ve put in your notebook.
  5. If kids won’t talk to you, don’t be offended. They’re just shy, and a lot of us were shy at one point of our lives. Think of what it would be like to be in their shoes, what life was like when you were eight or nine. But…
  6. Also remember that the world has changed quite a bit in the last decade or more since you were a kid. These kids are living a totally different ballgame, so they’re using different words, sporting different clothes, listening to different music, watching different TV shows. And they couldn’t care less about what you used to do when you were their age. So just focus on them; don’t bring in any of your own experience, because you’ll bore them away.

Most of all, I think it’s extremely important to remember that even though they’re younger, they’re not stupid. Don’t baby talk them or be condescending; they may be little, but they can tell when they’re being talked down to, and they won’t appreciate it. Who would?


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