Sunday, September 20, 2009

Nine Months From Now

What an exciting first week with the 2-year-olds. They all came in ready to get to work, and while a few of them clung to mommy a bit at first, they all eventually got their legs under them, their hands busy, and their brains engaged.

Very impressive, although I expect coming weeks will be a bit more rocky as parents experiment with leaving their kids on their own at school and we begin to deal with separation anxiety.

I’m always a little shocked by how little they are, with their fat diaper-bottoms and waddling walks. When I dismissed last year’s Pre-3 class in the spring they were big, confident 3-year-olds. It’s during these first few weeks that the past and present exist simultaneously for me – I see them how they are, but through the prism of how I know they will be nine months from now.

Two-year-olds are notoriously individual suns around whom the entire universe revolves and that’s exactly what we experienced last week, a roomful of brilliant suns, delightfully unaware of the brilliance of the other blazing suns playing beside them at the play dough table. The Pre-3 year of preschool, in large measure, is about learning to live in a crowded universe in which space and resources are limited. It’s about learning that you can only knock down your own block building. It’s about understanding that if someone else is holding something, you can’t just take it. It’s about accommodating the person who is coming down the stairs when you want to go up. These are not things that most of the children I met last week are capable of understanding. Yet, they are all things they will understand 9 months from now.

The development of 2-year-olds is all over the charts. Some come through the door prepared to discuss the relative differences between a triceratops and a diplodocus, while others have only just mastered the two-word sentence. Some scoot down the stairs on their bottoms, while we need to keep an eye on others to make sure they don’t climb one of the trees in the courtyard and make an escape over our 7-foot fence. Some are already showing signs of being ready to move beyond parallel play, while others seem entirely unaware of the existence of other children. At times the developmental differences are so extreme that they almost seem like they’re different species, yet it all falls well within the realm of “normal.” As the year goes on these difference won’t entirely disappear, but they’ll become less and less pronounced until, 9 months from now, they’ll all seem much more alike than they are different.

Two-year-olds tend to be very adult focused. Even when they have something to say to a peer, it’s often done by way of the nearest adult. Within a few weeks, as the children grow more comfortable with me, I’ll spend much of my time in the classroom wearing a “skirt” of children. Everywhere I go, everything I do, it will be in the company of two or more children. If I have to leave the classroom for a moment, they’ll stand by the door waiting for me to return. It might appear that they are playing “together,” but in reality it will be many individual kids playing with Teacher Tom at the same time. But as the year progresses, they’ll start to find one another. Nine months from now, I will able to spend extended periods of our free play time leaning against a wall just watching the kids play together.

There is no other year during which children change more than they do between the ages of 2 and 3. It’s an amazing 9-month adventure. I’m incredibly lucky to be along for the ride.

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Anonymous said...

I notice this now at Gymboree, the kids don't really play with each other, but around each other. I've probably had more balls or toys handed to me by other kids than my son.

A side question for you, how does your school differ from a Montessori? There is a Montessori school around the corner from my house and was curious how that might compare.

Pumpkin Delight (Kimberly) said...

Watching the change over the school year is fun. We come back after spring break and are shocked by how much taller and more mature the kids look. At the end of the school year, they have grown physically and socially and are quite different than they were when they started the year.
The short summer is a killer though because the new class seems so young and immature after the class that we just sent on.
I'm sure for parents this is ongoing and always surprising, but for the 10 months I have them there is so much change. It's amazing.

Teacher Tom said...

Montessori has come to mean a lot of different things. Originally, this referred to schools that based their curriculum on the child development theories of Maria Montessori, but over the past 60+ years it's come to mean all kinds of things.

Generally speaking, however, it's about education that is age-appropriate, child-directed, and with teachers who serve more as clinical observers, who strive to adapt the environment to suit the needs of individual kids. The classrooms tend to be characterized as relatively sedate with small class sizes.

Many cooperative teachers employ Montessori methods in their classrooms, but cooperatives are characterized more by their inclusion of entire families in the school more than any one teaching/learning method. I've had parents request I incorporate techniques from Montessori, Waldorf, Regio Emilia and several other models and I always give it a shot. Some of them work for me, others don't.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Tom, that really helps. My best friend and his wife just moved their 4 year old son to a Montessori from a Day School he had been attending. After just the first few weeks they like it a lot better and it got me curious. There are a few cooperative schools here in town and there is a Montessori around the corner from me, so I'm probably going to investigate both. I'm guessing that since my son is 17 months old now and will be two in April that I'd be looking at next fall to enroll him in a preschool program, so I need to get cracking. Thanks again.