Well, I survived the trip to Chicago, more importantly I survived driving in rush hour traffic in the rain and negotiating tolls. I came home with some wonderful ideas for next year but I also came home with some unanswered questions (unanswered because I didn't think of them until after I had processed all I took in that day...which was a lot!) but also some little nuggets of doubt in myself and my abilities as a teacher. The teacher in the class who is also the director of the school was very calm and very quiet. The children ranged in age from sixteen months to three years five months which was the first unusual thing, generally children move to primary classes between the ages of thirty months and three years, occasionally staying a month or two longer if needed. I found out later that the child had chosen to stay in the toddler community, he occasionally went to visit one of the primary classes but he didn't feel ready to make the change fully where two other children in the class had moved up in January. I wondered how this child was able to stay engaged in a classroom where he was beyond the materials being offered. I saw that he spent a lot of the morning doing practical life, making bread, slicing fruit, washing cloths and helping fill a gigantic pot full of soil. Not once he did seem to be bored or out of place in the class, I enjoyed listening to him offer suggestions to others as well as how he helped younger children...very amazing!
All of the children wore underpants, even the youngest ones. I only saw two accidents all morning and yet no one was being asked to use the toilet. The younger one went around in just a shirt and underpants, the ones who had mastered toileting had their pants on as well. The Directress explained to me that it is easier for the children to just pull down one layer of clothing as opposed to two which makes total sense to me. She also told me that she had a little boy who insisted on wearing his pants over the underwear and had just discovered on his own the week prior that it was in fact easier and he was now going around sans pants. It took this particular child over an hour to change from his diaper into his underpants, and again I loved how the teacher and the assistant would both check in with him from time to time to encourage him to change and start the day but they also let him be until he was ready. I find myself getting impatient and so I'm not sure I would have handled that with as much grace.
The children were not at all distracted by my presence, one of the younger ones would come over to me every so often to show me something in the room or to tell me something but otherwise they went about their daily routines. What amazed me the most was that they started the morning by around 8:45, school starts at 8:30 but it takes a while to change from outdoor shoes to indoor shoes and to change into underpants,and they worked until lunchtime which was around 11:45. Yes there was a child here and there who would wander for a time but overall the children were busy and productive the entire morning. But I did wonder if there was ever a time for singing and more importantly for going outside. It was raining that morning so I assume that was why they didn't go out but it didn't look as though there was a playground either, they had a small patio out the back door but it looked to be set up as a gardening area.
During nap time I had a chance to ask some questions, I noticed at lunch one little girl kept standing up while eating, even standing on the arms of her chairs. She was encouraged to sit back down but it wasn't made into an issue. Children worked at shelves or standing up at tables which is something I am working on letting go of being an issue and one little girl spent a lot of the morning walking around the room, something else I have a hard time letting happen. But again, the teacher explained to me that right now movement is this child's work and so what good would it do for her to make her stop. I can see that side of it but at the same time I always worry what someone might think if they look in the room and see someone just walking, would they think the child is bored or that I am not paying attention to their needs? Something to make myself work on I suppose.
So once I got back to St. Louis I found myself wondering if they way I have run my classroom all of these years is not the best way? I have always been proud of myself when I hear from parents and teachers how together the children in my class are or what a positive change is seen at home. Obviously that means that I am doing something right, but then am I too rigid in my expectations of the children? I have changed a few ways that I let my class flow and so far so good but there are things I am just not sure I can let go of. After talking to my own Director I have decided that like always I will take what works for me and what I'd like to make work for me and go with it and see where it takes me. In short, she told me to relax and let the children just be. I think I have to learn to let myself be first...I know so much yet there is so much more to learn.