Friday, June 19, 2009

Watching Them Grow

It is no secret that I truly love my job. I can talk non-stop about preschool, and the kids, and what they're learning, and how they're growing, for hours. And one of the best parts is watching these kids grow. Not physically, although that is always amazing, but socially and emotionally. We teachers work very hard to provide our students the tools they need to navigate in the world. We strive to teach them empathy, conflict resolution and self-reliance. And the absolute joy I feel when I see my students put to use what we've worked so hard to teach is AWESOME. I have been known to cry.

Our little preschool offers a fabulous summer program every summer. Every summer, several students new to the program join us for the summer to get them ready for preschool in the fall. Last summer, one of our new students was Mark. Mark was painfully shy and had never been to preschool before. Preschool, I think, can be a pretty intimidating place to a child, even if you do your best to make it as friendly and inviting as possible.

Mark really had no idea how to interact with his peers. He wasn't sure how to initiate play, he didn't know how to join in play, wasn't sure how to go about asking for a turn, and was completely helpless if another child took a toy away from. He was so overwhelmed with everything, that he spent a lot of time under tables, crying.

So we started to work with him, and give him the tools he needed. And little by little, Mark came out of his shell, and gained his confidence. We cheered the first time he asked a group of kids, "Can I play with you?". We were beside ourselves when he approached a friend for the first time and said, "Do you want to play with me?". And when he finally had the confidence to tell a child, "Please don't do that, I don't like that, you can have a turn when I'm done!", we all congratulated ourselves on a job well done. The jumping up and down and cheering came when he tentatively started to make mischief. We knew then he had finally come into his own.

(For the record, Mark was not my student, his teacher, Mrs. M., deserves the credit for helping with his social and emotional development).

Well, here it is summer again, and Mark has joined us for our summer program again. He is a leader in the group, showing the younger ones the ropes and being a good and kind friend. Of course, we have several new students, and Mark is so patient with the kids who just don't know how things are at school.

I witnessed this exchange last week....

A little boy who is new to the program, Todd, went up to Mark and tried to take the hammer out of Mark's hand. Mark, very patiently says, "I am using the hammer now, you can have a turn when I am done."

Todd makes another grab for the hammer. Mark: "I am using this, wait for your turn."

Todd wedges his way between Mark and the nail that Mark was hammering. Mark: "I don't like that, you are in the way and you could get hurt. Please get out of my way."

Todd, still firmly in the way starts grabbing at the hammer and shoving Mark. Mark's patience has run out, and he is clearly frustrated and starts yelling, "I don't like that! Wait for your turn! You can have a turn when I'm done!" It was like he opened up his tool box of ways to deal with conflict and used up every tool he had. He looks up at me, throws his hands in the air and shrugs his shoulders and gives the non-verbal "I got nothing left, here, Mrs.V."

I walk over to physically remove Todd from the situation, and start him down the road of how to resolve conflicts in preschool ("Mark is using that hammer. I bet if you asked him if you could use it when he was done, he would say yes"). As I walk away, Mark says, "That boy really needs to go to preschool."

And, we have come full circle. How awesome is that?


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