The only thing typical about a day wrangling preschoolers is that everyone starts the day running. Your little charges have already learned to walk, so that's one thing you won't need to teach them. Fortunately, you are as bright and chipper as a happy little squirrel first thing in the morning. Now it's time to gather those nuts and keep them from rolling all over the place (without losing all your marbles.)
Let's play pretend. You are the preschool teacher at a day care center in a big city. Every weekday morning, parents drop their kids off between 8:00 and 9:00 am. Tilly, Trixie, Tanya and Tucker are always there first. You and your aides help them unbuckle their winter coats, pull off their boots and put away their hats and scarves.
“Well, good morning, Trixie,” you cry to the bright streak of pink heading straight at you with her arms outstretched for a hug.
“How are you this morning?”
“I'm wearing pink!”
“Oh, I can see that. And your yellow tights are very cute.”
“Can you find the other kids and help them find their crayons?”
Here comes Tyler. Tyler is new. His mom adopted him from Equador and he's very shy this morning. In Spanish you ask him how he is and if he'd like to color with the other children. He says he'd rather stay by you and so you introduce him to some other boys as they come into the room. Soon they pair off and are looking at a book about bugs.
Once everyone is sitting in a circle on the brightly colored carpet, you put a big bucket of blocks in the center.
“How many colors do you know,” you ask the group. “Can you show me with your fingers?”
As the children put blocks into color groups, you watch. Are they able to pick up the blocks? Can they identify yellow, green and blue? Can they stack them?
Twyla and Skyler are giggling and starting to get a little rowdy. Before blocks start flying, you seize the opportunity. These two are good friends, but you've noticed that they exclude other children when they play together. One little girl, Thalia, was paying close attention to your instructions, but started to look sad when the two friends started pairing off. Last week, Thalia quietly told you that she didn't like playing with Twyla and Skyler, because they always made her the puppy when they played house with all the other girls.
You quickly organize a game that calls for taking turns. Instead of stacking the blocks by themselves, each kid in the circle added one block at a time until each one had a turn. After the child added the block, the next person had to say something nice to the one who stacked the last block. This way, all the girls learned to share and also to say something nice about Thalia, something that didn't involve barking or licking their faces.
After putting all the blocks away, the children are ready for snacks. You check your USDA-approved menu and set out some granola bars, fruit snacks and milk. Skyler is allergic to milk, Tank has a peanut allergy, Tod is on a sugar restriction diet and Tully thinks he's a girl.
Only the four and five year olds ask why Tully wants to play “girl games,” like baking and changing the baby. All preschoolers know they have different body parts. The younger ones don't care about who plays in the kitchen or who likes to play superhero games. No matter what you do, the girls will start to exclude boys from their games. They like to create domestic situations.
Boys also start to stick to their own gender and they like to play games that disrupt the peace. It's your job to encourage both genders to play nice and to learn new skills. So when Kamp tells Kira he's a dragon and he's going to eat all her cookies, your job is to help them communicate peacefully.
Preschool is the safe place where kids become part of a community. Kids who don't have siblings or who don't have siblings of the opposite gender learn from you. Talking to parents is key. Parents are trusting you to help them raise healthy children who know how to navigate their differences.
After snack time, everyone puts away the tables and chairs. Aides help them wash their hands, brush their teeth and pee. Tully needs a little prompting to use the boys’ room, but you don't push him when he wants to switch boots with Twinkle for playing outside.
The kids run around in the snow, jumping and balancing on playground equipment. You make a mental note that everyone is climbing up and down without problems, but Trooper is getting a little pushy. His dad mentioned that Trooper was getting aggressive, so you keep an eye on him and encourage him to help Trainor with balancing on a beam.
After half an hour of playing, you clap your hands and ask the children to gather around you. All the girls (and Tully) run up and hug you in a tight circle. The boys are still roughhousing. You call out louder, “Thunder! Tank! Troy! Please come over here.”
The girls turn to watch the unruly boys.
Everyone is watching the boys and they are loving it. They are this close to taking charge of the entire playground.
You quietly walk over to them, who are oblivious to outsiders like you.
“Guys, we are all going inside to play. We will wait for you to join us, but only for a minute.”
Everyone races over to where the girls are waiting. Everyone but Trenk, who kicks both his shoes off at once, which is quite an accomplishment.
“Trenk, I know you want to keep playing. Everyone loves playing with you because you're so good at it. Right now though, we need you with us. Maybe you could show us how well you can untie your shoes inside.”
After an hour of counting and coloring, guess what time it is. That's right, feeding time! When they aren't playing or learning, preschool critters are chowing down. After lunch, which is very exhausting, it's time for a nap. That gives you a couple of hours to fill out paperwork, set up meetings with parents and special ed teachers.
Now, children are required to have ditched the diaper before they come to preschool. Most children go through potty training (or, in high class circles, “toilet teaching”) between two and four years old. Parents are understandably anxious to wean their kids from diapers to underpants before they start socializing in a new environment. Some schools are strict; one plop out and he's a drop out. Others are a little more forgiving. In fact, some kids naturally regress once they hit preschool, just because the whole thing is so intense.
Trips to the bathroom might involve some spare pull-ups at the start but most kids don't want to be left behind, and when they see their classmates wearing big boy or big girl pants, they'll quickly pull up the rear. Preschoolers should know how to do the dirty deeds all by themselves, but a big part of the preschool experience (just like the college experience) is making sure someone is standing guard at the door, at least until your ship sails, so to speak. Your job as preschool teacher (or the “done dirt cheap” part of the song) is to wipe, button and snap pants, pull up tights, and supervise hand washing.
After the final snack of the day is your favorite time. Everyone is full of energy and new ideas. Kids who were crying or nervous in the morning are rollicking around with new friends. They're sharing and cooperating a little more. Tyler is still holding back a little, but you'll remember to teach everyone how to count in Spanish tomorrow. That should bring him out some more. His parents say he's very sweet when he feels at home.
Some volunteers from the local college show up and put on a puppet show, and then it's time to read about the Narwal, the Unicorn and the Velociraptor before bundling up once again. As the parents arrive, you hear the kids telling them all about their days. Each of them is a full of new ideas and experiences, and are one day closer to being strong, happy, healthy adults like you.