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Preschool Gems: Meet Twitter sensation Leslie McCollom
Leslie McCollom set up the Twitter account Preschool Gems to preserve the amazing things spouting from her students’ mouths on a daily basis. Four years later the account has more than 202,000 followers, celebrity fans and a published book.
Preschool Gems is essentially Kids Say the Funniest Things for the digital age, but the minds of children never fail to surprise and baffle. They say things like “I don’t care about time outs. I only care about life,” and “I like cool branches. What do you like that’s cool?” We caught up with Leslie to find out more about her experience, and what the future holds for Preschool Gems.
What was the initial inspiration behind Preschool Gems?
When I first started working as a teacher I was completely amazed by how funny and creative my students were. Up to that point I really thought young children were more like babies, and didn’t have as much going on in their minds as they really do. But once you get to know them they really open up, and the most insane stuff you’ve ever heard starts pouring out of their mouths. Which is fantastic! So I felt a real obligation to share that with other people. Around the same time I first started writing down quotes, there was one student in particular who was very dramatic and emotional, and also very poetic with his word choice – I was getting a LOT of great quotes from him. This student was also really obsessed with gems and all things sparkly, so he inspired me to call it Preschool Gems.
You’ve got more than 200,000 followers on Twitter. Has it been a steady build or were there any big spikes?
Well, for a while after I started it there was slow but steady growth, mostly from friends and friends of friends. Then at one point fairly early on there was a huge spike, to something over 50,000. At the time I just assumed it was because I’m incredibly funny and charming and the world was finally starting to catch on, but later I figured out it was because a producer from the show “Glee” had followed the account. Apparently he was sharing his favorite quotes on set, and then the cast members started following, bringing along their thousands of rabid tween fans, which I still really appreciate! For a brief moment in time, “Glee” fans on Twitter had decided that I was secretly one of the cast members, which I made sure never to outright deny.
Who is the most famous person that follows you?
Well, Gwyneth Paltrow follows, which was really cool, and Nicole Richie. Then of course there are the “Glee” folks. Buzzfeed follows me, but they aren’t really a “person.” I would say that B.J. Novak is the most involved famous follower. He has been very good to Preschool Gems. Vinny from “Jersey Shore” followed for awhile, then unfollowed, which was a really tough and confusing time for me personally, but I’m rebuilding now.
What has been your most popular tweet? Do you have any particular favorites?
One of the most retweeted is “Being happy is actually a good thing.” One of those simple truths that people really seem to enjoy. Another one that I’ve noticed people seem to identify with is “I don’t want to be myself anymore because I can’t stop eating cheese.”
As for my personal favorite, I can’t possibly choose one! Here are a few though:
“Dance around! Dance around! And make a burrito by yourself!”
— Preschool Gems (@PreschoolGems) May 25, 2012
“I don’t care about time outs. I only care about my life.” — Preschool Gems (@PreschoolGems) May 16, 2011
“This is a picture of a ghost showering, and his shower is our throw up.”
— Preschool Gems (@PreschoolGems) May 17, 2010
Do the kids (or their parents) know about Preschool Gems? How have they reacted?
Well, I’m actually no longer teaching now, but at the time, everyone in my school community was incredibly supportive, from the administrators to the parents, and my fellow teachers. When I first told people at the school that I was doing this project, I asked parents to let me know if they prefer that I not include quotes from their child, but no one took that option. I think the parents really got what I was trying to do, and they were glad that someone was writing these things down as a way of preserving them. It’s hard for parents to find time for that kind of thing.
Tell us a bit about the book – what’s in it?
We wanted to make sure that the book would have value even for religious followers of the Twitter who had read every one of the quotes already. I think my mom really appreciated that extra effort. But seriously, we didn’t want it to just be a reprinting of the Twitter. So we made sure there were some never-before-seen gems, an essay by me about my inspiration to do the project, and why kids are so ridiculously hilarious.
One of my favorite things about the book is the artwork. It’s filled with drawings by my students, and they’re amazing. They perfectly fit the mood I had hoped to create with the book. The cover image (which is also my Twitter avatar) was drawn by a girl named Julia who was not my student, but I found her art online and wrote to her dad to ask if I could use it. We worked together to get the publisher to pay her for her art, and she ended up using the money to buy a cello, which I thought was awesome!
Are there any plans to do another? Has Preschool Gems led to any other opportunities?
Well, I suppose now is as good a time as any to say that I am available for any and all opportunities. A TV show, a movie, hoodies, board games, my own holiday. Get at me! Right now my biggest goal as far as Preschool Gems is concerned is to do a short-form podcast featuring interviews with kids. I think it could be hilarious to listen to, and it would definitely be fun to make. The quotes are even more amusing when you can hear their tiny elf voices! I’m also trying to do more of my own writing, instead of just stealing words from children.
What are some of your other favorite Twitter accounts?
@TweetsofOld is incredibly entertaining. It’s actual excerpts from early American newspapers.
@TweenHobo frequently makes me LOL. It’s a brilliant writer named Alena Smith whose character is a preteen Bieber-obsessed hobo. Her Tween Hobo book is wonderful also!
Oh, and @MarnieTheDog is mostly famous for Instagram, but I think she’s just lovely on any social media platform, and her owner writes really funny captions. When she followed me back on Twitter I almost died.