We are gearing up to back to school time.
If you are like me, you are thinking about what you would like to keep the same in your classroom. What are some new things you might like to try.
If you are looking online, on social media, or if you are talking to other teachers (IRL), and you are wondering how to start the school year there is one pretty consistent piece of advice out there that I keep seeing. That is, start implementing your rules, routines, and expectations from day one. Otherwise, you have to go back and re-teach everything. So I have read.
I disagree, at least, when it come to young 2 and 3 year old children. The rest of you who teach older children can tell me if this holds true for them or not. But I teach very young children. When they start school, I consider them babies. Not infants. Not infantile. Not incapable in any way. But they are precious, tiny humans who have such limited experiences in this world. And for my population of students, most of their interactions with the world, up until they walk through my door, has taken place with a parent or caregiver close by. And, now that it's September, and they have been on this planet for a whopping 2 and half years, we are asking them to say goodbye to that person or persons, to learn to interact in a new space, with new adults, with new children (and likely a whole lot more children than they have had to work with before), and then we tell them to come back and do it again and again, every day.
That's a lot.
Now, of course, children handle this new transition and separation in a variety of ways. Some children are quite keen to walk in and go to town with all this newness. New toys! New teachers! New children! Bring it on! If they knew the phrase, "Don't let the door hit you on the way out!" That is what they would say to their parents as they get dropped off at school on the very first day. I admire those children. I never have been, and likely never will be able to approach life that way. But more power to 'em.
Most children need some time to observe, to warm up to the classroom and to the teachers while a loved one is still close by, and little by little they are ready to try this thing called school on their own. Some need a a day or two, some longer. When they do say goodbye, some will cry a little. Some will cry a lot. Tearful goodbyes are often part of the process of this learning. That's fine too. Because if we have done our job right, we can help comfort those sad children.
What is doing out job right?
All we really want in the beginning of the school year is to get to know our new students. We want to build a relationship with them so that we become more grown ups that they trust and care about. We want school to be the place that belongs to them, and where they can try new things. We just want them to like coming to school.
So what do we do? We play with them. We talk to them. We read with them. We laugh. We sing.
And we enforce as few rules as possible in the beginning of the school year until we have built that relationship.
Not ready to sit at circle? That's fine Circle time is only 2-3 minutes long anyway. Most of the kids are eager to join and sit together and hear what we teachers are talking and singing about.
Want to dump out all the Duplos? It's fine. It'll get cleaned up at the end of play time.
Not ready to help clean up? Fine, I'll find the kids who are cleaning, and I will help them. Clean up will get done.
Want more snack? Sure, here's another handful of animal crackers.
Now this might seem like chaos and mayhem. But here's the how and why it's not.
Keep. It. Simple.
At the beginning of the school year, we set up our classroom with minimal materials. So, if there is lots of dumping, we can manage to clean it up with or without the help of the children.
A basket of Magnatiles OR Duplos
a basket of train tracks
small tray of crayons
small tray of pencils
play dough rollers and cutters
If it's still too many materials, and things feel chaotic, we take some out. If we think we can and should have more, we add it in.
As I mentioned, our circle time is really short. Sing a song. Look at our schedule. The end. At the end of the day we read a story. If we can. Otherwise, we just plan to sing a song.
It's not chaos and mayhem, because, here's the thing. We are in this school thing for the long haul. We have time. Time to build relationships. Time to build routines. Time to learn to sit on the rug. At the edge. And stay there. Until the end. Most of the time.
Even while we say yes to some things that will eventually be no's, we have the big picture in mind. Saying yes in the first weeks of school is a step in the process. We are building up to the rules that we will have in the classroom.
In a few weeks, when there are fewer tears at the door, when we know the children love to play and be at school, when we know they are comfortable in our presence and proximity, then I can say to the straggler at circle time, "Time for us all to sit on the rug. Would you like my lap or do you want to choose a spot?" And if they refuse I can put an arm around them and lead them to the rug. I might even pick them up and help them get settled.
At the end of September, or October, I might say to the child who is about to dump out the Duplos, "Today, let's keep them in the basket while we build. I think you will still be able to find the pieces you need." And if I am too late, after the Duplos are dumped, I can smile and say, "Before you move to a new area, let's just pick up these Duplos. Otherwise the floor is too crowded." Then I help them clean it up. And if they start to walk away, I can always put that arm around them that leads them back.
Are there children who still won't follow the rules? Yes. Sometimes. If they need more time, we can give it to them.
Because will be back again and again. Every day.