For the first couple of weeks of school this year, I stared my work day in the Junior Pre-K with a vivacious group of three-year-olds. Those morning were filled with joy. This is my 40th year of teaching. My first six years in this profession was happily spent in a cooperative nursery school whose mission had at its core Quaker ideals. This was a fortunate start to my career, and I continue to be grateful for it. It gave me a strong foundation of respecting our small ones, listening to their wisdom, and joining forces with their parents to create a wonder-filled environment.
When I first walked into the Junior Pre-K room, the children looked up and they all smiled at me. A few called me over to their table. One girl asked if I wanted to be her friend. Another girl came close and offered me one of the blocks with which she was playing. I, indeed, felt a deep sense of welcome. And so quickly too! It restored my faith in humanity. Graciousness and hospitality comes naturally to three-year-olds. They want to be your friend. They trust you. They are open to the world around them.
One of the boys who was sorting sea creatures with me, stopped abruptly, pushed back his chair, held up his index finger and said, ” Wait here! I’ll be right back!” I watched him scurry over to another table where some children were coloring. He grabbed a piece of paper and a blue crayon. He carefully made three shaky ovals on the page, put the blue crayon back in its place, and hurried back to my table. “I made three clouds for you,” he said handing me his paper. I smiled, thanked him, and together we wrote his name on the paper.
The next morning when I came to his classroom, the same boy hurried to make me a picture. “It’s a bow and arrow,” he said seriously, “It will protect you.” I smiled and laughed.
“Thank you,” I said, “I definitely need protection. I will hang it in my office next to your clouds.”
Every morning I visited that week, I was gifted with a picture. Then one morning when I walked in the door, the boy looked happy and then worried to see me. He came over to me, “Oh… I’m sorry! Today I made a picture for my mommy.”
“That’s wonderful,” I responded, “Your mommy will love your picture.”
Signs of worry faded from his face. “Do you want to see it?” he asked.
“Yes, I would love to see it.”
He ran to his cubby and came back with a colorful picture. “It’s a rainbow,” he said.
“Your mother is going to love your rainbow!”
He smiled and put it back in his cubby.
I am struck with the generous spirit of this small boy and that of his classmates. I was a stranger to them, but they quickly accepted me into their space and wanted to show me what they could do. Even two students with limited command of English greeted me and wanted to interact with me. One of them is learning English by listening to songs, and he would come over to sing to me or count to ten in English. In return, I would sing and count along with him. And we would laugh together. I wonder how we can preserve this sense of wonder. I wish we could put it in a bottle and sell it over the counter to any adult who has lost direction. It would definitely be hard to keep in stock!
If you are an adult who has lost direction, feels that the world is tilting upside-down, and that there is little compassion left in the world, take heart! In preschools all over the country — and the world, there are small ones who will show you the way. They will smile and offer you maybe a rainbow, maybe three cloud, maybe a bow and arrow for protection. I recommend returning to preschool; it is a great way to start your day!