A few years ago, one of our Woodland Park families made a generous contribution to our Pre-3 classs and worked for an employer with a matching funds program. In filling out the paperwork, they were asked to provide our “mission statement.” This is an animal we’ve never owned. And given the nature of a cooperative preschool, in which management often experiences a 100 percent turn-over each year, it’s very likely the poor thing wouldn’t get the daily walks it would need, let alone proper feeding or grooming. My short time in the business world taught me that mission statements require a lot of work and attention if you’re going to raise them right, so we continue to do without one.
Still, they needed to fill in that line so I answered, only half jokingly: “To expose young children to as many childhood illnesses as possible before sending them off to kindergarten.”
In this fall of concern over swine flu (H1N1) I don’t want to leave the impression that we’re casual about illness. And I would, of course, never intentionally expose a child to any illness, but I’m also a realist. This is a preschool, after all, a notorious hot bed for sniffles, coughs, and colds. We’ve hosted rounds of chickenpox, Fifth’s, pink eye, hand-foot-and-mouth, strep, and any number of other illnesses of the standard childhood variety over the years. Two-year-olds have brand new immune systems that still need to learn to fight off disease on their own, and like with everything else they need to learn, the only way to do that is through experience. I’ve come to think of illness as part of the curriculum.
Looking back, it feels like I was sick for nine straight months during my first year teaching. I hung on because my colleagues kept telling me that after 4-years my immune system would be so strong that I’d never get sick again. While that hasn’t proven to be entirely true, I certainly don’t get sick nearly as often as I once did, and when I do the symptoms seem milder and I get over it much more quickly than in the old days.
It’s not unheard of for a 2-year-old to miss nearly half her school days due to illness. That said, it’s quite rare for one of our 4-year-olds to miss school: a couple years ago our Pre-K class only had one day missed due to sickness. That’s not one day per child; that’s one day combined, and I have the attendance records to prove it. Those guys were ready for kindergarten!
Yesterday, several of our Pre-3 students called in sick and I noticed thin, clear mucus on the upper lips of others. At one point a parent showed me two empty tissue boxes and asked where to find new ones.
Yes, grasshoppers, we will wash our hands and cough into our elbows, but like it or not the learning has begun.