It is the last day of summer vacation and I am meandering back in time to last year and all the years before it when I arrived in my kindergarten class to begin a fresh new year. In anticipation for the group of new students, I will have spent the last week setting up the room to act as the “third teacher” in my Reggio-Inspired classroom. Each area created with love and respect for children. The arrangement designed to build the conditions for students to uncover their value and discover their voices.
It is like a blank canvas everytime. Electricity crackles on the campus. It’s palpatable. You can feel it in the air, like it’s my birthday and I’m waiting with anticipation to open all my presents. I don’t know what’s inside the boxes but I know I’m going to love everything that I receive.
The opening moments are critical. I am the adult that parents must trust to leave their most precious beings with. I am the adult who will now spend the most waking hours with their young. This is the first day of formal education. It’scary, exciting, unsettling.
For students, I am the adult who will replace their parents for the hours that will feel like eternity. Who is this new adult that I will be left with? Will she take care of me? Will she like me? Will I be safe? Can I trust her?
I walk out to find my squirrely group with anticipation. I have done this a long time. Gone are the days of nervous anticipation but the giddiness and newness are still with me just like the first year. Oh the wonder of it all. What will this new year hold for us? What adventures? How will this community come together? What friendships will form that will last a lifetime?
These are the moments that hold promise. These are the seeds that will blossom into a new year full of unlimited possibilities. This is the moment when trust is established. This is the moment that I will draw from as we face uncertainty and insecurity, and we always do.
I love having parents stay in the classroom when they can and begin the connections of community. You can watch it happen. I always have a parent meeting the second evening of school. You can feel the expectations in the wide eyes of new kindergarten parents. I want this new group to coalesce and gel. Leaders and organizers usually show themselves. Others find their way. I always want to stay open to all the newness. It’s so fresh. It doesn’t last for long. Maybe one or two weeks, tops.
Somewhere around two weeks in, the newness dissapates and reality sets in. Formal school has really commenced. This is for real. Somewhere around this time inevitably, students start to injure themselves in typical kid ways. They fall down. They knock each other over. Someone gets kicked in a game.
When I first observed this predictable pattern, I was horrified. I worked diligently to watch every child as best as I could. I watched for rough play, fast running. unsafe jumping. I observed with a keen eye, always anticipating injury. I became that overprotective parent. But as I observed, I saw students tip over, fall out of chairs, trip over their own feet for no good reason and sometimes with in an arms length away. This happens year after year at about the same time.
I love to analyze and root out causes. I think what I witness in these first two weeks are a combination of things. A bigger playground to navigate, growth spurts, more children to play and run with who have different abilities contribute to this strange two weeks of scrapes and bumps. I think the thing that contributes the most is that children begin taking risks. Risks lead to skinned knees and bruises sometimes.
And then, just as mysteriously as this period descends upon us, it goes away. Maybe it’s because the growth spurts level off, or the big playground is familiar, or children have discovered their limits. I’m not sure why, but it stops. And usually around this time the awkwardness of the group disappears. Parents join together and sink into this new community that they have begun to create. We settle into trust and safety. The seeds of which were planted on that first day of school.