The beginning of the school year is always so exciting! I love meeting new families and talking about what the coming year will hold for them and their little ones. I love seeing the list of all the precious students who will be in my class and getting excited about writing their names on their cubby tags, chairs, and backpack hooks. I love getting new supplies ready and opening a brand new box of crayons to place in the art center, ready for eager little hands to create masterpieces and to begin learning how to form the letters in their own names. I love the excitement on their faces when they enter my classroom for the first time, absolutely ecstatic to explore and discover.
You can’t tell I love the beginning of a new school year, can you? As exciting as it all is, though, the first few weeks of school can be quite stressful – especially for my students and their families. Some of them have been in an early care and education setting before and leaving their family for the day is “no big deal;” but for those students attending school for the first time, it can be very difficult to adjust to being away from their parents all day. For the first four years of their lives, they have had constant contact and interactions with their parents, safe and secure from most things “new” or scary. To be thrown into an unfamiliar environment with new adults and peers they have never met before is a big task for them to take on, and we certainly should not expect them to adjust immediately.
The excitement that children get when they enter my classroom for the first time often subsides when they realize that their parents are actually about to leave them in this new environment. That sometimes causes fear and anxiety. Instead of attempting to persuade a student to calm down by telling them that they are okay (which is an untrue statement, because as far as they are concerned, they are not okay), I like to utilize the Conscious Discipline strategies. Conscious Discipline is basically an “approach” philosophy, ultimately giving children confidence in their own decisions and security in their environment. Therefore, when a student is having a difficult time separating from his parents, what I can say instead is, “Shhhhh (modeling deep breathing and exhaling with intention)…it’s hard when mommy leaves, huh? Shhhhh (taking another deep breath so children can see and feel me inhale)…you’re safe.” After a small amount of time the student is usually ready to join the group and engage in an activity. Modeling a combination of deep breaths, soft and empathetic words, and acceptance of the child’s feelings most often helps to make things better.
However, if a student is having a more difficult time than usual, he can walk around the room with me and be my helper. After a while he gets distracted by something he sees in the classroom, or by what one of his friends is doing, and will easily join the group. I have found that these students are the ones who gain the most independence as the year progresses and are usually natural leaders among their peers. Part of the reason for this outcome is establishing a positive relationship with them (and all of my students) and letting them know that their thoughts and ideas matter. Recognizing and verbally validating their feelings is so important.
Shinichi Suzuki once said, “It is necessary to be concerned about the importance of educating a really beautiful human spirit.” Educating and developing a “really beautiful human spirit” is not accomplished by standing in front of a class and telling them what they should know, but rather by encouraging them to explore and find answers. It means getting down on the floor and letting them take the lead, guiding and encouraging them as they discover for themselves what this amazing world has to offer. It means praising the five year-old student who just learned how to properly use scissors after six months of working hard just as much as the four year-old who can already write his full name. It means crying with them. It means laughing with them. It means making them feel safe.
I love the beginning of the school year because I get excited about all of the accomplishments I will get to witness. I cannot wait for it to begin.
Mr. Daniel is the Kindergarten Prep Academy Teacher at #202 in Oklahoma City, OK. Children leave his class more than prepared for Kindergarten. The parents at his school are always impressed with his creativity, love for teaching, and tenacity in the classroom.