The preschool experience for me created a lifelong joy of learning. Growing up in a suburb of Los Angeles in the ‘70’s, preschool was looked upon not as a necessity or a “head start’ but more of a luxury, as feminism had yet taken a stronghold in the American fabric and the stay-at-home mom was not the exception to the rule.
This magical place, which just happened to be located at the church my mother sometimes attended, afforded me the opportunity to dabble in paint, explore blocks, and interact with peers. I would arrive to the smiles of my teachers at the door, happy to have me there to play. No work books, no circle time, no assessments-just learning about the world and how it worked outside my home. I was the oldest child with a sibling on the way so social interaction I’m sure was high on my mother’s priority list. Outside play equipment, which would be banned in today’s preschool environment, allowed me to climb, fall, get back up and with encouragement, try again.
Fifty years later I can still recall the box lid lined with white butcher paper that Mrs. Taylor handed me containing splatters of red, yellow, and blue paint which I was to take over to a table where marbles of all shapes, sizes and colors awaited to see what I would do with them. What would happen if I used a big marble or a small one? Did it matter if the marble was clear, “marbled”, or a solid color when I dropped one into the paint and swirled the box lid? Trial and error, physics, sensory, language development. Freedom to be a little girl exploring in a new environment with teachers to guide and be there if I fell down, both literally and figuratively. Early childhood “education” at its finest.
I am quite sure that teacher training in the area of early childhood in those days consisted of ideas passed down from one teacher to another, not much thought as to what areas of development were being targeted. Fine motor skills and phonemic awareness, school readiness, among other academic phrases were not part of these teachers’ vocabulary. They were there to love kids and provide a safe environment for them to try different activities and learn how to get along with others. Period. Simple.
That experience for me, half a century ago had an impact on my life in ways I cannot totally comprehend but know that it benefited me over the course of my academic and professional life. The impressions that I took from those years – adults who were happy to see me, who respected the child and allowed for exploration both inside and outside the classroom and were sad to see our session end, taught me that school, like home, was a safe place to be. It set a course of lifelong learning for me both as a student and eventually a teacher.
As an educator I strive to emulate this model with my students, whether I am subbing in a second grade class (yes technically by definition is considered early childhood) working in an after school program or just hanging out with kids in some other arena. I know I am successful when I get a note from a student thanking me for subbing in their class, or a former student who has kids of their own asking for advice because they trust that I will not steer them wrong. Not too long ago I had a former student find me on Facebook. She was so ecstatic to reconnect and tell me that she still had projects saved in her memory chest from her time in my kindergarten classroom – including a splattered marble painting. 🙂