Today in the Playroom, my focus falls on four little girls. Two of them (Kenisha & Ruthy) are new to the school and are playing at a table. Nearby, two other little girls (Lilu & Anna) who have been at BlueSkies together since their days as Wobbly Walkers, are starting to build with blocks.
On the rug, Lilu and Anna are creating a large rectangle with the blocks while talking about decorating it for a party and egg hunt. Anna has spaced the narrow cylinders along the top of the block wall creating columns that outline the space. Lilu challenges her by asking “What about the ground? What will we use for the ground?” Anna looks around and takes a foot long block and puts it in the center of the rectangle. “No!” says Lilu, “Much too dangerous!” Anna takes it out of the rectangle and puts it back on the shelf. She takes a basket of large smooth flat pebbles and places one on the rug. Lilu smiles and says “I know those are the bushes!” Anna takes them up and responds “but where is the ground?”
On the other side of the shelf the newest members of the group are getting settled. Kenisha has taken a tray toy and put it on the table. She keeps a hand on the chair in front of her. Ruthy has chosen a stacking toy and puts it next to Kenisha’s tray as her hand falls to the same chair. This square table has one chair on each side of it. While the girls seem oblivious to the problem in the making, the teacher steps around the changing table, says “Oh, I’ll show you Ruthy”, and she pulls out the other chair and slides Ruthy’s toy tray over. Ruthy begins to cry. Kenisha looks confused and remains standing with her hand on the chair. Ruthys mother, who has just said her good-byes, reappears to see what has happened to Ruthy. She hugs her little girl and wipes her nose and eyes as the teacher steps back to the toilet area to speak to a child there. Ruthy’s Mom helps her settle down into the alternate chair. Kenisha, still standing with her hand on the first chair, watches this dance of mothering and needing going on. Ruthy stops crying, mom again exits, teacher settles Kenisha, and returns to the children figuring out how to pull their pants up again after having gone to the bathroom. Kenisha and Ruthy work the toys silently, their head’s bowed down in focus. Just across the way and all the while, Lilu and Anna are chatting, giggling, and decorating their egg hunt structure while still discussing how to find just the right ground to hunt on.
Soon Kenisha and Ruthy will be just as busy as Lilu and Anna are now. It takes some time to get used to school experiences and how things work. Where should I put my tray toy? How do the chairs go around the table?
School is so different from home. The logical structure of school will be easy to learn; the big difference will be how situation gets handled at school.
These new children are growing their sense of self; they know about being at home and now they are learning about being in a group. At home, big sister may be expected to adjust for little sister or little sister might be picked up and simply moved. If it is just mom and dad at home, adults often thoughtfully pick their battles and let the baby have as much latitude as they can. However, at school, children in a class are treated pretty equally and are on equal footing. New children are learning to pay attention and relate to one another in a way that trusts the structures that are put in place by the teachers. The more experienced girls play so happily in spite of the emotional outburst occurring nearby because they know they can manage and still get their needs met by teachers when they need help. Ruthy is still learning about teachers and how to trust they will see her. Kenisha, despite her deer in the headlights look, was learning a lot too. As she watched, she saw:
- This girl has a mom like me. I miss my mom sometimes and sometimes I’m ok without her.
- The teacher will help and it is no big deal. I’m not good or bad just learning like all the children.
- The kids who were here when I got here are happy and busy. They are not concerned about the crying, the strange mom, or what the teacher does. It must be safe to make mistakes and to learn here. All of that could be taken away from this one busy moment in the Playroom.