The day started with table top play. I scanned the little faces, seeking the one I felt confident to approach, the one who least intimidated me. Nervous, I sucked in a breath and approached two girls at the writing table, their backs to me. Instinctively, and from years of practice coaching writing with adolescents sitting at their desks, I knelt to ask the girls, "How's it going?" Though this is the opening, stolen from Carl Anderson, that I use with older students, I didn't utter it today. Instead, I asked the first girl if I could see the picture she was coloring. She showed me sweetly, and I asked her name. Her smile captured my heart. I turned to her partner to see that she had written her own name on a piece of paper, which she was preparing to put inside an envelope to be "mailed", via her backpack, to her parents. I said, perfectly amazed, "Wow, you wrote your whole name. That's a lot of letters." She replied, "I only write little r's. I don't know how to make a big R."
I paused. Was she asking for my help? Should I show her how to make a big R? Would I be breaking preschool protocol to do so? I asked her, "Do you want to know how to make a big R?" She said, "My mom is teaching me." By this time the other girl had finished coloring her purple tree and waved it proudly in my face. "Look," she said. "It's done." She turned away. I wasn't needed at the writing table anymore.
So I gathered my courage and approached a group of boys at the play dough table top. I hate play dough. I refuse to play it with my kids because I cannot stand when the colors get jumbled. It's one of the few ways my inner OCD materializes. But today, looking at just one lump of green play dough, I slid my way to the table. I sat down next to a small boy with deep brown eyes, and I asked his name. Then I turned to the other two boys at the table to get their names. By the time I had committed the three to memory, the first boy handed me a ball of green dough. "It's a meatball," he said. "I made it for you."
He and his cronies proceeded, at my suggestion, to make me a plate of spaghetti and meatballs, and I realized that within 10 minutes of being in the classroom, these children had accepted me, had welcomed me into their community, and had trusted me enough to share their creations.
If only adolescents were so open.
There were many differences between the worlds of preschoolers and adolescents that I noted today, lessons I think high school teachers could learn by visiting their preschool colleagues. Today's agenda, organized around a specific theme, followed a routine that made the children comfortable, but it also incorporated skill building in an interdisciplinary way. Morning circle addressed math, science, and language as the children identified the date on the calendar by counting, assessed the weather conditions, and pointed out words on the bulletin board. Children showed mutual respect - for each other and for the teachers - and demonstrated leadership skills in a low-risk environment. "Thank you," said the "caboose" as he collected name tags from each child. The room applauded for his leadership of the pledge of allegiance and patriotic song.The morning circle, non-fiction reading helped the students think about winter. The ending circle narrative brought this theme and these concepts into a story. The day was filled with singing and music, dancing and laughter. In short, it was nothing like the secondary classrooms I have observed where disciplines are parsed, respect is fleeting and hard earned, politeness is mandated if practiced at all, and reading inspires little excitement about a topic.
Throughout my day, it was easy for me to engage with the four-year-olds. They talked easily. They answered questions spontaneously. They asked questions eagerly. They even told jokes, which somehow made me smile despite their nonsensical punch lines. I couldn't help but compare my day in preschool to my experiences in secondary schools - and I kept thinking that the upper grades, and I, have a lot to learn from preschool.