Yesterday was the first day of school for some of our 2-year-olds. Our Pre-3 class is a two morning a week operation with our first week running under the principles of what we call "slow start." This means that half the children come to school on Tuesday and the other half on Friday. The idea is to give them a gentler, quieter, less action-packed introduction into their new school year, than what they'll come to expect.
For me the start of this school year means a shift from the schedule of our summer camp, which was a relatively wild and wooly indoor-outdoor program with 26 kids ranging in age from 2-6. I've mentioned before that one of my few regrets about what happened during this maiden voyage of hosting children during the summer is that I didn't have the chance to really get to know the little ones. For the most part, I'd already taught the older kids, we were already buddies, they already knew their way around the joint, they were masters of the routines, expectations and rules. My initial instinct had been to exclude 2-year-olds, but for a variety of reasons it made sense to enroll them, albeit with the advisory that the social environment would likely be dominated by the older kids, some of the curricular elements would be over their heads, and that Teacher Tom would probably not be able to slow down enough to really get to know your child -- at least as well as he would like.
As the children trickled in yesterday, I was able to be the first to greet them as they came through our doors, chat them up, be silly. I got right to work on our curriculum of teaching them to question authority with cows that say "oink," mis-assembling puzzles, and "thinking" that the play dough cookies might be real.
Parker, Henry, Rex, Vivian, and George had all taken part in the summer program, and despite the fact that I hadn't really had the chance to focus on them the way I would have liked, they all definitely demonstrated a level of comfort and engagement beyond what I'd normally expect from first day kids. Likewise, Kiran has been tagging along with his older sister for drop offs and pick ups for his entire life and he seemed right at home, luxuriating in the opportunity to play in the water table to his heart's content without being whisked away to whatever it is babies do while their older siblings are in school.
It was a strange sensation for me at first, realizing 5 minutes into class, that it was only going to be these 9 kids today, contained in our indoor space for the first hour. I've been spending my teaching days racing about our entire facility popping in and out of the children's activities, getting things going then turning them over to my parent-teachers as I moved onto something else, checking in, cracking jokes, fulfilling the role of games master to a group of kids who were already wound up, calibrated, and running. I took a conscious moment to slow myself down, observing where the children had chosen to play, watching how they moved from station to station.
Then, ahh, I fell into the luxury of getting to know the 2-year-olds. Austin showed me the right way to work the puzzles, especially the one featuring trains. Connor was a little suspicious of me, but we engaged over the cardboard blocks, and I saw him let down his guard a bit when he realized I was going to sing. Lucy demonstrated her flair and concentration at the easels, going home with a yellow smear across her forehead (which she enjoyed seeing in the mirror) and obviously really loved circle time, working those hand gestures, moving her body and beaming the whole while. This is the way I like to get to know the children as 2-year-olds, at their level, no agenda, goofing around. At one point I started making the babies dance and sing, which drew a crowd, but mostly I took the time to just hang with my new buddies, trying to speak informatively to the children, narrating what I saw happening, leaving lots of space for them to share their own thoughts without the pressure of directives or questions.
Of course, one of the things that makes our slow start days so "gentle," is that all the parents stay with their children. In the Pre-3 class, separation anxiety always rears its head, and helping the children through it will be the most pressing work of the first month or so of school, but there's none of that during slow start.
Our new basket of "every day" cars got quite a bit of action, although didn't have to serve their primary function as comfort/distraction items.
Their day will come, but not this week.
As we ended our day, the children, as they always do in the Pre-3 class, came up to hug me goodbye. Henry looked me right in the face and said, "You're silly." That kid really knows how to give a compliment.