As an Early Childhood Teacher, “back to school” has many different meanings. Each year, it’s a new beginning. New faces, new experiences… Every year between infant and kindergarten is a whole different stage of life.
When I was an infant teacher, babies coming to “school” meant it was the first time they would be separated from their parents. Many more parents than babies cried upon that first separation. Part of my job was to comfort the parents, and assure them their precious babies would be in good care throughout the day. They were welcome to call as often as they wanted/needed to see how things were going. We had very detailed sheets we filled out during the day – every diaper change, bottle, snack, meal, what they ate, how much they ate, anything else fun they did…. the bonds we created with those families often made it feel as if we were actually a part of their family.
With toddlers and young preschoolers, there are lots of tears at drop off. The tears are from both the parents, and the children. We do our best to comfort the children as the day goes on. What we have discovered, is that within a couple of days, children usually start to feel settled in. They might still cry a little at drop off time, but usually within a short time (often within 5 minutes – literally), they are done and playing. Those drop offs often prove much harder on the parents. They start every day with their kids clinging or crying, and then they have to leave to go to work, to pay for their kids to be in daycare. Many parents (especially moms) spend their days wondering if they are doing the right thing by having their kids in child care.
Last week, we had the first day of 3 year old preschool (I have 2 classes of 3 year olds). It’s a bit different being in the school district vs a child care center. At a child care center, the parents usually get a chance to know the teachers in the next room a bit before their children move up. In the school district, unless the parents already had older children who were in the program, or if they attended ECFE classes, it is a completely new environment. The children in my daytime 3 year old classes were very excited. Their parents were nervous. Some children were nervous too, but most of them jumped right in to exploring the classroom. On the first day, the children were only there half the time, and their parents stayed the whole time. The second day, the kids let their parents leave. I expected there to be lots of tears, but surprisingly, we only had 2 kids cry. Some kids struggled a bit to find their place in the group, some jumped right in to play time and group time. We do our best to comfort, distract, and help the children to have a great time! We are lucky enough to have our classroom in an ECFE classroom, so we have a two-way mirrored window parents can stand behind to watch what’s going on. The next couple of weeks will be a time of adjustment – for the children, the parents, and the teachers (after 3 months off, we need time to get used to the new schedules too)!
At night, I have a class of 4 year old preschoolers. Again, on the first night, they were there half the time, and parents stayed. Many siblings came… It was a BUSY room!! With the 4 year olds, the air was a little different. There was a sense of pride among the children and their families. What a huge difference between the 3 year olds and the 4 year olds! Many of them were able to write their names, draw people, etc. Many of their parents were able to hang back and just watch. Our first night with just preschoolers wasn’t that much different. The kids were more independent, my other teacher and I were able to do lots of observing and playing with the kids. It was so cool to see an amazing road and airstrip that two boys made. The creativity of children sometimes really amazes me!
With the school year in full swing, parents are both cheering and missing their kids. It’s hard to find the happy medium between the two. With the hectic schedules of the school year, after school events, swimming lessons, church groups, etc, find a way to enjoy the time you have together as a family. Make a point to have family meals together as often as possible. Talk about your day with your kids, ask them how theirs was. I sometimes notice my son shutting down a bit when I ask him about his day. Sometimes I pry a bit, sometimes I wait until bed time. Usually, he will open up about what happened that day at some point. Granted, he’s only in first grade, but I believe that opening the lines of communication now is going to help down the road. If things do come up that concern you, communicate with your child’s teachers. As a teacher, I know I want to know as much as possible about the kids in my class, and if there’s something going on that may affect their ability to learn, feel comfortable, etc, in my classroom. I assume the same is true of my kids’ teachers too.