My child went to real school today but early this morning, I was busy telling myself just the opposite. I was trying not to be weepy about him starting preschool for the first time so I decided This isn’t real school. This is preschool and next year isn’t real school either because it’s prekindergarten. He’s got two more years until he’s in real school!
If you are someone who works with young children, you know that is total bullshit. If I’m going to call what happens and all that has already occurred at his preschool before the first day “not real school” then I might as well say I’m “not doing real parenting” until my kids are older.
Sure, early childhood teachers work in a totally cute environment. The teeny little chairs and the teeny little people with their teeny little problems (“She took my yellow crayon!”). How hard could it possibly be working in a place so adorable?
I have never taught preschool, so I can’t say for sure, but what I do know is that his classroom, this first day of school, was immaculate. Every toy, tool, and carpet had been scrubbed to look new. Lovely, cheerful bulletin boards displayed birthdays and information for parents and kids. Everything was labeled with names, nouns, and numbers. The teachers were happy and welcomed each child in a way that made them think they had been sitting there at the school, just waiting for their new students to arrive.
I know that to clean and prepare a space for small children takes a lot of effort and planning. I know that arranging a classroom for those teeny little people to navigate for fruitful discovery isn’t a simple task. I know that getting a group of small children to enjoy their first day of school usually requires the difficult combination of flexibility and detailed planning. I know those teachers were exhausted from the preparation, excited, and somewhat nervous.
But did they tell the parents or kids about any of that? Did we catch a whiff of all that had happened prior to walking in the door this morning? No. Because early childhood teachers are magicians.
Early childhood teachers absolutely work with fun tools, with kids who are innocent, and cute (most of the time). There is snack time, free play time, and birthday celebrations. Most of us would consider it lucky to work somewhere that promoted those kind of events. But there is meaning in almost all of it. (They aren’t complete martyrs! I’m sure they throw in a few mindless projects or activities near the holidays for a break because who wouldn’t? )
Those teachers hone a craft of hiding the tricks behind everyday objects such as crayons, blocks, and trains. Behind the fun songs, rhymes, and read alouds, they are teaching our children and giving them experiences that will build the foundation for their education and in turn, their life.
Our children, who gleefully participate in this magic, work hard to absorb all that learning and they do so much, every single day they are there. They work past the fear of being in a new place, with help from those loving teachers, and start to create their destiny.
Destiny. Foundation. L-i-f-e. I’m using dramatic words because the work the teachers and our teeny children do is important. It is hard work for both of them. It’s as “real school” as seventh grade, as senior year, as an MBA. The time length is just shorter, like the kids and the outdoor furniture. The learning they do is more cleverly designed and willingly gets plastered on the fridge.
I’m sure you’ve come across declarations like this before on the internet. This was a moment of weakness and then clarity I had on my son’s first day of preschool. No matter how many times you’ve heard it, I hope you believe it.
As a note of consolation towards early childhood teachers who are sick of being told they play all day for a living: I think I told myself that my son isn’t in “real” school yet more for myself. So I can believe that he’s still a wee little baby and we are still in that phase. Don’t worry, this parent gets it now. I pro-mise I won’t make that mistake again. Oh, and thank you, thank you, thank you.