Frances Kaufman has spent her lifetime with children. When she lived in England, she was the go-to friend when anyone needed a sitter for a few hours. She loved singing songs and reading books to the children.
Then she spent four days a week as a teacher’s aide when a school was built across the street from her house. Her first tasks were small, such as hanging posters on the walls, but she eventually became the teacher’s right-hand person, she said. She worked her way up to the position of assessment re-teacher, helping the students who were failing.
Now, at age 92, the Winter Garden woman is a reading volunteer, this time at Montessori Winter Garden Charter School, spending several hours each Tuesday and Thursday helping children sound out words and read them in sentences.
“I'll tell you one thing — I’m very lucky,” Kaufman said. “When I walk into a classroom, they all run up to me and give me a hug. I'm very lucky that way. It's wonderful. I love it.”
She has volunteered there for four years. This year, she is working with all kindergartners.
Cathy Tobin, the school’s assistant principal, said the children absolutely love her.
“She has a full-on English accent; they admire that,” Tobin said. “She is very methodical in her teaching of them, and she has high expectations of them. And beyond having them work on their fluency, she has them work on comprehension, and she also works on reading with emphasis, so she has them put personality into their reading, even at the youngest level. So it's quite fun, but it's also quite rigorous.”
Kaufman follows the guidelines of the Montessori method but has incorporated her own style of teaching.
She introduces the individual consonant and vowel sounds of small words, which she has written in bright colors on cards. She also takes with her a handful of early-reader books for all skill levels.
It’s easy for her to take any kindergarten-book scenario and turn it into a lesson.
“I always make a story; I bring things to life,” Kaufman said. “The cat and the rat. Do they fight? No, they get along, like you should in the classroom.”
She doesn’t hesitate to sing songs about vowel sounds, with the idea that making it interesting will help the children retain what they learn.
Kaufman said she often is animated when teaching, as it engages the children and helps them remember. If a sentence has the word hop, she will get up and hop.
“They're starting to read, so I'm happy,” she said.
“Ms. Frances is a treasure, and we are so grateful that we get to benefit from her amazing energy and enthusiasm,” Tobin said. “She had a pacemaker put in two weeks ago, and all the kids made cards for her. Two weeks later she was back with her books, ready to go.”
Kaufman has been in the United States for 70 years, first arriving when she met an American soldier who was stationed in England in World War II. They married and had two sons.
When she isn’t volunteering her time at the school, she remains busy at home. She keeps her mind sharp by reading two books a week. She also knits afghans for infants and cancer patients, and, through the years, she has received photographs of many of the babies who have received a blanket from her.
“I think I’ve always had an old soul,” Kaufman said. “I think I've always been a teacher. I'm just doing this from the heart.”
Contact Amy Quesinberry Rhode at [email protected].