Sr. Mary Jane, 90, shares children’s wisdom in ‘Whatever Happened to the Sandbox?’

Longtime educator Sister Mary Jane Wallace, OSB, holds her newly published book, “Whatever Happened to the Sandbox? Enjoying the Creative Wisdom of Children.” (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

ROCK ISLAND — When you’re teaching classes with 45 and 60 students at a time, it doesn’t take long to amass a large collection of stories that amuse and inspire. Sister Mary Jane Wallace, OSB, tells some of her favorites in a new book, “Whatever Happened to the Sandbox? Enjoying the Creative Wisdom of Children.”

Published by St. Mary Monastery in Rock Island and released in January, the 94-page book offers a fun look into how children think and interact with their world. And at a time when technology seems to dominate so much classroom and free time, Sister Mary Jane emphasizes the need for children to engage in unstructured play, too.

“Structured situations rob children of their imaginative and creative freedom,” she writes. “They need to experience life as a free spirit. How fortunate the child who experiences this freedom of growing and playing.”

Her observations come from six decades in education, both as a classroom and music teacher. She started thinking about putting her thoughts on paper in 1989, when she turned 60 and grew concerned about the way computers and the first grade reading classes were making their way into the kindergarten curriculum.

Sister Mary Jane put her pen down, though, thinking she was too old. Now, at 90 ½ — “and don’t forget the half!” — she realizes how young she was then and how much the book is still needed.

“Revisiting these stories through the lens of maturity and wisdom, I now wonder who was doing the teaching,” she writes.

“BE READY TO LAUGH”

“It’s a very easy read, as they say now,” she told The Catholic Post. “There are short chapters. I put a question at the end of every chapter so it can be used at a book club or just sharing.”

In fact, most of the chapters in the book are two or three pages, with the longest covering five pages. There’s the story of a boy who wanted his family to buy her a red dress for Christmas because all she had was a black one, and the twins who talked to the Tooth Fairy during a piano lesson.

“Sometimes when children say things, we cut the conversation off, and we miss the opportunity to experience some fun make-believe time,” Sister Mary Jane writes. “There is a lot of make-believe for the little ones and reality comes soon enough.”

Another tells of a boisterous first-grader named Janie who was scolded by one of the Sisters in an effort to make her quiet down during lunch. It didn’t work. After Sister left, Janie sang in a loud voice, “Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf. . . .”

“Be ready to laugh,” says Sister Mary Jane. “It’s a lot of cute stories — and they’re all true!”

“Children need to be corrected, but with kindness,” Sister Mary Jane advises. “Often adults don’t realize how we appear to a young child when we are giving a correction.”

The question at the end of this chapter asks: “Did you have any ‘big bad wolves’ in your classroom? Who were they? Please say a prayer for them.”

“Be ready to laugh,” she said. “It’s a lot of cute stories — and they’re all true!”

STILL PRAYING FOR STUDENTS

Sister Mary Jane came to St. Mary Academy in Nauvoo when she started the fifth grade. After she graduated from high school, she entered the Benedictine community and professed her first vows in 1949.

She taught at St. Mary and Sacred Heart (eventually Seton Catholic) in Moline, Holy Family in Peoria and St. Mary’s Academy and Sts. Peter and Paul, both in Nauvoo. She also served at schools in Chicago and Munster, Indiana.

In addition, she was pastoral associate at St. Mary in Moline and Resurrection in LaSalle. Sister Mary Jane still gives piano lessons to a small number of people.

She dedicated “Whatever Happened to the Sandbox?” to her many students and said she continues to pray for them. She offers thanks to their parents for sharing the children with her.

Sister Mary Jane autographs each book with the following wish: “Enjoy sharing your stories and memories. God bless you.”

“Whatever Happened to the Sandbox?” is $14 each including tax and may be purchased at St. Mary Monastery, 2200 88th Ave. West, in Rock Island any weekday between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. or on Saturday between 9 a.m. and noon. The cost is $18 if the book is shipped.

To order a copy, call (309) 283-2100 or send email to benedictines@smmsisters.org.

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