My daughter is wrapping up her last year of preschool at First Presbyterian Church, and I’m finishing my first year of substitute teaching. I’ve concluded there are certain professions that everyone must try at least once in life to gain perspective and to give respect. Working with children is one of them.
For example, we all would be better restaraunt guests if we had waited tables and relied on tips for a month. We would be better customers in stores if we had to work as a retail associate cleaning out dressing rooms during the holiday season. We would be better Americans if we served in a branch of the military for a short tour of duty — at least experiencing a week or so of basic training. And, we would be far better parents if we assisted preschool teachers — even for a half-day.
My oldest daughter, Ava, didn’t attend preschool because I didn’t see the point. I gave up my career with a law firm so I could stay home with her, so why in the world would I send her out? And, since I did give up a well-paying job, how was I supposed to justify the expense of tuition? AND, who could do more for her than her own mother? Isn’t a stay-at-home parent the equivalent to a homeschooler? A playmate?
Well, that’s before I realized that kindergarten is the new first grade. I had no idea that Ava would be taking spelling tests and working math problems. I thought she would color for a while, build a tower of blocks, listen to a story, take a short nap, eat lunch, and go out to play. That’s what kindergarten was in 1976! Not anymore.
Thankfully, Ava is a bright child and I had worked with her for four years on letters, numbers, shapes, and colors. She caught right on to the kindergarten curriculum, with the exception of social skills. Her separation anxiety was worse than I imagined it might be, and she cried every morning until the last day of school. Everyone was miserable, including her teacher. It was exhausting. It was also our fault. Ava was overwhelmed by the number of kids and the process of kindergarten.
- Criss-cross applesauce? We don’t play with our food!
- Finger on the wall? What happened to don’t touch?
- Hips and lips? Isn’t that a way to spread germs? Keep your hands away from your mouth?
- Line leader? But I don’t know where I’m going!
- Lunchtime? You mean no one brings it to me?
- Up at 7:30, out the door at 8. You mean we have to do this EVERY day, every week, for nine months?!
I vowed not to make the same mistake with Maryn, who started preschool when she was three, attending morning classes two days a week. I learned my lesson with Ava, in addition to a few others since becoming a volunteer:
1) Kids can serve themselves (most of the time). Forks and knives and tongs build fine motor skills, in addition to teaching table manners. Would you please pass the milk? Would you please pass the towel?
2) Boys and girls can write their own names. If not, they should try. They know who they are.
3) Sanitizing sprays aren’t effective if you spritz and wipe. You need to leave the disinfectant on the tables or toys for at least four minutes before wiping, or else you simply swipe the sterilizer away. Leave it wet and let it dry.
3a) Plush toys can’t be cleaned all that easily. Don’t buy them and don’t donate them. Mites, lice and germs live in the fibers.
4) Leave kids alone. Let them play. Don’t try to organize play or interfere with play. Encourage them to have fun, and then back off.
4a) There’s nothing better than fresh air and running through the grass.
5) Turning off the lights gets their attention far more effectively than shouting at them to quiet down.
6) Routine. Routine. Routine. Repetition. Repetition. Repetition.
7) A book really is a child’s favorite toy.
8 ) Paint usually washes off. Usually.
8a) Painting with a brush is great, but painting with a hairbrush is even more fun. Also, Bingo stampers make better designs than anything made by Crayola.
9) They’ll tinker with anything. Kids don’t need a $50 toy; a container of what-nots will do just fine, and it encourages them to use their imagination. Mismatched toys are valuable to a preschooler.
10) Music, art, dance, books. The classics teach them far more than technology.
They say parenting is instinctive; mothers automatically know what to do. Effective parenting doesn’t require a degree (but it’s helpful!). So, for those of us who didn’t take classes in child psychology or study teaching techniques, fear not. This particular mother also learned a valuable lesson (by accident) just by watching the movie, Michael, the story of an eccentric angel who changes the beliefs of a jaded reporter.
“Remember the words of John and Paul.”
“No! The Beatles! All you need is love.”