As a teacher, I am passionate about the Reggio Emilia approach to education. I'm constantly challenged, learning, and deepening both my practice and relationships. As a parent, however, my requirements are pretty simple: Make my child feel loved and keep them safe. Would I prefer a Reggio-inspired program for my daughters? Sure, and it's what they experience during the school year, when they attend the school where I teach. But I also see the benefit of learning to be flexible, adapting to less-familiar environments and programs, as well as building trust with a range of caring adults and peers.
It was for these reasons that I enrolled E in a half-day summer camp at a local community center. A thoughtful, cautious, and sensitive girl, she is blossoming in many ways, and I wanted to give her opportunities for continuing to build social skills in our months away from school. The community center classroom is about as traditional American preschool as it gets, complete with a weekly theme to guide the children's activities. Not really my cup of tea. But the space is clean and safe, the teachers kind and warm. I feel completely comfortable dropping off E, even if she sometimes struggles with our goodbyes.
At a recent pick-up, one of E's teachers handed me what appeared to be a white t-shirt and, with an apologetic tone, explained, "She didn't want to make a superhero cape today." I unfolded the shirt to find a cape with an iron-on superhero decal, E's name beautifully printed in puffy paint, and few meager lines drawn with marker (which I'm guessing were E's efforts). It was adorable, frankly, and I assured her teacher of such. But her entire demeanor spoke of a kind of penitence, as though she were bracing herself for my admonishment. And, in a flash, I saw it all.
I saw the planning that she had done, maybe months ago, to settle on themes that she hoped would be fun for her students. I saw the investment of personal time that it took her to buy and pre-cut 14 t-shirts, carefully ironing the decals and labeling them with names, probably at her own home. I could picture her gentle and persistent efforts to engage E in the activity of decorating a cape. I imagined her mental debate when E just wasn't interested: "Will this child's parent expect a product to prove she learned today? Will she trust that her time at camp was still worthwhile, that I'm a competent teacher, even if there is nothing tangible to validate it?"
Cheers, friend. I get it. I've been there. And I know that your concerns are based in experiences you've had, that you've had to justify your occupation to families and administrators who want to measure the unmeasurable. I, too, have taught from a place of fear and defensiveness, learning to expect that I would need to constantly prove myself. It's no fun, and it's a waste of your talents. So, here is my wish for you, early childhood educators of my children.
Cut the crafts. Instead of using your personal time to prepare them, have a glass of wine. Watch some tv or read a good book. Come to school tomorrow refreshed and restored, because it might be my kid who tests the limits of your patience, and a loving response means more to me than making sure she brings home a craft. All the money it takes for you to buy those cute materials? Put it towards the simple stuff, paper and crayons, books and clay. I'd rather my child have the freedom to scribble for hours than present me with a perfect-looking product (that, honestly, will go into a landfill somewhere). Take the energy that you otherwise would have put into convincing my child to complete a craft and use it instead to guide her in joining groups and forming friendships. That's where she really needs your help.
When my daughter is grown, she probably won't look back fondly on her childhood and recall the crafts that she made. But she might reminisce about curling up on your lap with a favorite book. I'm willing to bet that the feeling from those moments are memories that might stay with you, too. In the meantime, get out a second glass of wine for me.