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Out of the Minds of Babes:

Making Sense of the First Days of Preschool

In their defense, they are three-year-olds. They average about 42 months of life experience. It happens every year on the first day of school as I welcome the new recruits. I see how small they are and think “these kids are so young!” The evidence accumulates as I see many blank stares, some persistent socializing, and occasionally some somersaults at circle time. These students are young! And they don’t seem to be getting what I am saying much of the time. In their defense, they are three-year-olds. They average about 42 months of life experience, with the first 24 months essentially used learning to control their bodies and the rest to coordinate their bodies and use language. Amazing.

two kidsAs you prepare for a new school year with young students, do you perform the time-honored but highly uncomfortable test of getting down to their level in the classroom and taking a look from a preschooler’s point of view? I love this little exercise because it shows me how differently they see things. Just imagine if we were able to truly put ourselves in their shoes those first few weeks of school!

Wow. Mommy is really gripping my hand tight this morning and it’s making my bag slip off my shoulders. Wait, it’s not a bag. It’s called a backpack and I picked it out myself because it has, ummm, I can’t remember what. Maybe I can stop and take a look. Um-let-me-see-here…nope! Apparently Mommy thought that was a bad idea to stop in the middle of the parking lot to take off my backpack and turn it around so I can see the…oh yeah…the pirates. I have a pirate backpack! I love pirates. Wonder if this school will have pirates?

Whoa. This place is awesome! My new teacher just told us to find our cubbies. I love that team! I wonder if I will get Rizzo. I love that guy! Maybe he will give me a baseball. What? Why is my mommy smiling and pointing to a tall wooden cabinet with no door? I may be new here but that is no ballplayer! I wanted a Cubbie! Why is mommy telling me to find my name? I can't read. Hello—that’s kind of why we are here, so I can learn that stuff. Mommy, why are you telling that other Mommy that we practice this at home? I never stay on that alphabet app! The race cars are more fun and I have that app saved to my personal apps section. Really, I thought you knew? Hand me your phone and I will show you! No? Whyyyy? C’mon! I’ll play the letters game for a few minutes….

Mommyyyyyy! Why are you leaving? This was not part of the plan! I distinctly remember you saying “We are going to preschool today!” This doesn’t feel like we, Mama. Why is that teacher lady talking to me? I thought after she visited our house we were done with her? Don’t gooooo! Sniff. I am all alone in this world. My mommy left me here. I will cry for the rest of my life. I am so sad. Huh? I can go play? Well, sniff, if you insist. Pirates, pirates, pirates…where are you? Hmmm…blocks, puzzles, books, kitchen, papers, and crayons. No pirates? I thought you said there were toys here? Grrrrr!

Well, this might be a game changer because I see scissors and glue. Mommy doesn’t let me use scissors. “Ever again,” I think she said. Who knew she could hold a grudge so long? All we were doing was playing hair-cutting-place! My sister didn’t mind until I put the glue on to fix the big spot where there was no hair. Mommy told Daddy it was her fault for leaving the scissors out, so why did I get a time out? Well, I learned my lesson! This time I will only cut a little bit. Hey move over, kid, so I can get to those scissors.

I’m doing it! I am doing a preschool craft! I am rockin’ this! Cut on the lines? Well, I thought there were lines there. Ah, glue, my old friend…so good to squeeeeeeeze you again! One drop? Is she kidding? Glue was made to be squirted! No—give it back! Well, then please give it back. A glue stick? I have to use a lousy glue stick? Okaaaaay… but I am twisting it way, way up. Then you will be sorry. Grrrr. OK, she said glue in the middle of the page then put your nose right in the middle of the glue spot. Seriously? My nose? All right, I guess this is a “preschool thing.” Why? BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT YOU TOLD ME TO DO?? Sheesh. Teachers! Oh, I see. You meant the paper nose I just cut out!

Oh no! Not now! No! That’s it, can’t hold it any longer. Gotta go! Thanks, teacher lady, I see the bathroom. Yes, I will wash with soap and water when I am done. Unless you have glue because that would be so cool to wash with glue. Ah, I love glue. What? Why are my clothes off out here? I am saving time, teacher! Why wait until I get to the bathroom when I can take them off as I go? We are burnin’ daylight here people! Okay—mission accomplished. Outta here and back to the toys. Did I wash? Nope, guess I forgot. Oh, you want me to go do that? OK. Little pump of soap…basin full of water…now out of this stall once more. Why is she looking so confused? Now grossed out? Now red in the face? Well yes, new teacher lady, I did. Um, because it was easier than turning on that big sink. Well I did use soap! YOU JUST SAID WATER! NOT WHICH WATER!

Jesus Time? I do not think I am going to like this one bit. We have that at home sometimes when Daddy gets real mad and shouts “Jesus!” I wonder what made the teacher so mad. Huh, she is lighting a candle. Okay, we can repeat after you. She doesn’t even look mad when she says Jesus. Jesus loves me? I wonder if Daddy knows this because it sure doesn’t sound like love when he says “Jesus.” He’s my best friend? Cool! He died on a cross? Is that Toss Across with the little bean bags…wait, what? He died? My new best friend died? I didn’t even get to meet the guy yet. He rose again? What are you talking about, teacher? That doesn’t happen. Just ask my great grandpa. You can’t. He is still dead. And Jesus ascended into heaven? Where is that exactly? Up? Huh—must be close to Florida. We went up in a big airplane to get to Florida. Maybe they have more rides and no long lines in heaven.

Sure, I want to talk to Jesus now! Can I use your phone? Whadda you mean pray? Why are these kids holding their fingers together and closing their eyes. Hey look! I am the only one with my eyes open…ha ha! I can make funny faces at them and no one can see me… Okay teacher, I’ll stop that. Yadda yadda yadda…she sure is talking a lot…Aaaaaamen? I guess that is a magic word they all say together so everyone knows when to open their eyes. I will try that on Daddy when I get up real early and it’s still dark: Amen, Daddy! He might say Jesus again when I wake him, so I guess we would be playing our own Jesus time. Cool.

Mommyyyyyy! You are here! I thought we were over? What, I get to go home now? I thought this preschool thing was permanent. I heard you tell Daddy I have lots of years of school ahead of me. But, yeah, I could be done with it now. Okay, goodbye teacher! Yes, it was kinda fun. Next time? What? I have to come back?Mommyyyyyy! Yes, teacher, we will get my new backpack from my cubbie. Mommy, are the Cubs playing Pirates tonight? Yes! So maybe my real Cubbie will be here next time, and maybe he will bring back the pirates too. Because, Mommy, this teacher thinks puzzles and books are actual toys…but I like pirates. And glue.

Julia Brauer Heinz teaches PK3 and serves as director of admissions and early childhood education at Immanuel, East Dundee, Ill.

Photos courtesy Immanuel Lutheran School, East Dundee, Illinois.