As I rushed to finish my snowman project my preschool teacher reminded me again that it was time to go take the class picture. I don’t remember the words she used but I remember feeling that I wasn’t done. Although I was the only child left in the room, I decided to keep working. I remember having only ever seen snowmen in pictures. I pasted cotton ball after cotton ball with my popsicle stick ignoring the heed to finish.
Then… it happened.
As I put the popsicle stick back into the tall jar it tipped and the glue poured out. I rushed to try and contain the flood but I only made matters worse. My hands were covered in glue as I tried shoveling it back into the jar before my teacher noticed. I froze as she walked over to the work table.
I can’t remember what she said to me, but I remember she screamed it. I was mortified and crying with glue covered hands. I remember the embarrassment as I watched the mess spread. I remember the rush of trying to scoop up the glue. I remember the shock and fear as I was yelled at. I remember the tears still on my face as I tried to smile for the class photo.
Sadly, this is my only memory of preschool.
It’s the rare person who remembers anything about their preschool experience. But it’s important that preschoolers’ everyday experiences build a foundation for later learning. For me, the goal is to be a stable, trusting, creative, energetic, and empathetic figure in the children’s lives. I seek to understand them so that I can provide for them a wholly enriching experience. I savor their wisdom and zest. I marvel in their quest to understand the world and the mysteries of the universe. We get messy and dirty while playing.
Most importantly I tread lightly. My early preschool experience shapes every single day I work with kids. I have experienced, as I think almost all childcare professionals and parents have, the frustration and loss of patience my preschool teacher must have felt. If I can use my voice to deter an injury, I do. If I need to place my body between two children who have resorted to fisticuffs, I do. I also know deep in my heart that no matter what, each child is wonderful and special. I tread lightly and seek to understand the root of a conflict. I respect both sides of a story, and provide the space for that story to be told.
Although my only preschool memory is negative, I have no doubt that I spent those crucial years of my life in a loving and caring environment. My parents would have it no other way. Unfortunately the memory I’ve kept is of that tall jar of white Elmer’s glue tipping and falling, and the consequent scolding.
With my preschool memory in place I show up at Seedlings each morning and secretly hope someone will spill the glue. Because then I’ll get a chance to help them clean it up and try again.
© Jonathan Iris-Wilbanks and Sunflower Creative Arts, 2011
Photos © Haidor Truu and Sunflower Creative Arts, 2011