In Part 1 I wrote about the moment a child and I smiled together, and how that was the start of my becoming a ‘real teacher’.
Part 2 is how I continued, and how my teaching grew.
Once I had my Lightbulb Moment, my teaching world turned upside down. Children came first. What they were interested in, who they were as children/people mattered most. I needed to get to know them better.
I started to use a tape recorder to “interview” children, as this not only helped me to get to know them, but also was a good tool for language development (and it was fun). Our curriculum at that time was France and learning about the old masters in art. Young children love to paint, and they were practicing being artists with real palettes. I was learning so much about them, why not have the children do an autobiography to accompany their work of art? And, why not have the children name their work of art, and call it a ‘masterpiece’? The result was so profound that we had an art show at school, and then moved the art show to our local post office for the community to enjoy. What a success, and what a wonderful experience for the children. Our art show has since become a yearly event in the community.
Again, the building blocks were growing, but now I began to realize that each block in itself was little. Did using a palette or holding a microphone make a difference? No. So, where did the passion and love (and there was passion and love!) come from? It was each block, over and over again, often hundreds of them, which made the difference. I started to call this phenomenon “The Hundred Little Things”. Now, my teaching and curriculum had become child centered.
From this point forward, I put the cart before the horse. Smart thing! That same year my husband asked me, out of the blue, why our children wanted to hear ‘I love you’ all the time. “It’s the hundred little things”, I told him. “It takes at least a hundred times for each little ‘I love you’ to really become meaningful”.
The next year my class went to the circus. Of course we decided to have our own circus performance at school for our families, and I let the children decide what they wanted to do. Again, a child-centered event eclipsed anything I could have planned. Over the next few years, music, math games, and science exploration exploded. Every child’s interest was a spark, and became a tool for learning. I had learned so much and transferred the children’s love into a great preschool experience.
Little did I know that the best was yet to come.
I love museums. In Philadelphia I visited the National Liberty Museum and was thunderstruck by their Peace Portal. Instantly I knew this magnificent structure was something my classroom could recreate. My years of following the love of the children had allowed me to embrace my own love, and give it back to the children. Now the tables were turned, yet again. I brought the idea back to school, and the children loved it!
They spent a large part of the school year designing a Peace Portal. Then, they wrote a Peace Poetry Book, and designed a Peace Quilt, which still hangs in the Museum after nearly fifteen years. Suddenly, the power of love had gone beyond the classroom. The depth of this project was not only children’s building blocks, but my building blocks as well. Yes, I could give the same passion and love, too. Wow! A combination of the two means a deep understanding and enthusiasm on all parts. As such, the process and the product were wonderful.
The following year, the children really wanted to sing “God Bless America”. Watching them sing amongst themselves, over and over, even in the sandbox on the playground, was a true ‘hundred little things’. Again, we worked together, under the umbrella of love, to bring the song to soldiers, to making a book, and to designing a quilt that hangs at the Fisher House in Boston.
More events grew along the years. Yet, there was something else woven into children and definitely into me – the love of books, stories, and reading aloud. Throughout my journey of becoming a real teacher, that was the constant every day. It helped my bond with children, it enhanced my curriculum, and grew with passion. This remains the most important thing I do with children.
I am one of the few preschool teachers who chapter-reads to children. I’ve been featured in the million copy bestseller The Read-Aloud Handbook (seventh edition) by Jim Trelease. I have also been a live guest on The Kelly Clarkson Show to talk about reading aloud. So much has grown and happened with reading that it deserves its own blog post. Stay tuned!
Being a preschool teacher for many years has been a wonderful roller coaster of every emotion and of learning. When I first became a preschool teacher, teaching happened first. Thanks to Andrew, I know that love happens first, and then becomes the catalyst to develop deep relationships with children, and therefore a rich curriculum. The ‘hundred little things’ proves that to be true. Pay attention, as love is there. You just need to see it. It can change your life. It changed mine.