The other day I worked alongside a substitute teacher in our Moorestown preschool. It had been a number of months since she had worked with me and my class of preschool students, and midway through the morning she commented: “I can’t believe how much [the children] have grown, and how capable and independent they are.”
This comment struck me, certainly because I believe strongly in the importance of capability and independence for young children, but also because of this teacher’s “outsider” perspective. Because she does not spend each day with these children her approach is one of snapshots. She remembered the children as they were the last time they interacted, and that perception was stuck in time until our most recent collaboration.
The message here is not that the children were incapable earlier in the year — in fact, quite the opposite is true. Children are complex thinkers, always seeking relationships with the world around them. Earlier in the school year the world of our preschool classroom was new, and the children were making meaning with the new space and with others. As the year has progressed, this group of preschool students has grown their relationships – with their work, materials, each other, and me – and, as a result, navigate the complexity of our day differently. It is not a question of inherent capability; it is a question of relationships which are growing, always in dialogue with each other.
There is a lesson here for us as educators and parents. We are often so close to the daily lives of our students that we forget to appreciate the big picture. It may be easy to recognize individual moments of growth – say zipping a jacket or writing the first letter of one’s name – because these examples are overtly evident. These moments are certainly to be valued. I urge us to step back as well and to appreciate the ways that children have taken their capabilities and used them to create a meaningful dialogue with the world around them. What was once new, and perhaps approached with caution, has become routine. Old challenges become new opportunities, the basis from which to attack new questions. New frontiers are opened, and with them new meaning. It is important to pause and appreciate how joyful this discovery is for young children. I am grateful that I was reminded to take such a pause this week.
Beginnings at MFS is the Moorestown Friends School Early Childhood Program (Preschool, Prekindergarten, and Kindergarten). The Beginnings Blog is intended as a helpful tool for parents and guardians of young children, examining important ways in which children find meaning, in their lives and in their education.
Author Garrett McVaugh is the Beginnings at MFS Half-Day Preschool Teacher. Along with his Teaching Assistant Pauline Williams, he guides some of the youngest MFS students through their first year of school. A graduate of Haverford College, Garrett has been an early childhood educator for over a decade. Prior to MFS, he was a teacher at Preschool of the Arts in Madison, WI. Prior to living in Wisconsin, Garrett spent eight years teaching at St. John’s Episcopal Preschool in Washington, DC.
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