As an educator, the first day of school was always full of emotions. Children and families feeling sad, excited, anxious, worried, and happy. The first day and perhaps the first month is a roller coaster of feelings. Some children are doing totally fine, but suddenly they break into tears after a few weeks of saying goodbye with a huge smile. That moment of welcoming children into a classroom is unique. I remember one time a mom told me “If he cries, he usually is fine if you give him a hug and let him hold his blanket,” and I thought, “Well, that is probably what I was going to do, does she think I am just going to let him cry?” But I said “Yes, no worries, I will do that, and let you know if anything happens.”
As an educator, that first time you meet your students and their families you want them to trust you. You do everything you can to make them feel welcomed, but sometimes you have to let go, knowing that no matter what you do, children are going to miss their parents, and parents are going to feel worried about leaving their children with a complete stranger. As an educator, you decide to be there no matter what, you support them, you create strategies, and you help them to discover what an amazing year you have planned.
Last September, I was on the other side of the door. I was dropping my son for the very first time into a family child care group. He was beyond happy, excited, and waved to me and my husband without any tears. I was feeling sad, anxious, and worried about trusting my little one to a new person. At the same time, I was happy that he was starting a new adventure, an adventure where he was the main character. I remembered my mom telling me that she wished she could be a tiny fly and see what he was doing at his daycare, and I told her that I wanted to do the same. The other side of the door was not easy, but these two amazing educators met us exactly where we were. They sent us updates during the day, pictures once a week, and a quick update of the day at pick up. After a couple of weeks, I knew I did not need to be a tiny fly to know my child was happy and content.
September 2020 is different. My expectations for him have changed, and we have to adapt as a family to a new reality. We have to trust our teachers in a dimension beyond the anxious feeling we experienced last year. I have to trust them with my most precious gift in the middle of a global pandemic. So we did it, we sent him to summer camp, we wrapped up our fears, and decided it was time. My husband and I have learned how to live with this terrifying feeling that something we could have “avoided” can happen to him, but we also learned that we cannot do this alone anymore, we need “our village.”
We are in the middle of the process of starting a new school year. It is real and we fear almost every day for the health of our family. However, in the last three weeks we see the social emotional component of being part of a “village” again. He is enjoying so much being part of his own adventure that was paused for almost six months. He is more curious when we go to the park, he is not at my side all the time, and he is speaking more English. The transition was not always easy — there were times when he cried and refused to put on his bathing suit in the morning. But with time, we made it to the last day of camp with a big smile.
I am grateful that I have the privilege to send him to a place where I know the teachers and that we have built a little community since last year. In the past few weeks, I was able to see how they are doing tremendous work every morning with the families that are new to the program. I am sure they all feel anxious about not being able to “look and go inside” (at least that would have been me). However, having that one-on-one moment during arrival and dismissal is so great for us, and I am sure it is for everybody else. I have the time to speak about him and take my time to say goodbye. The best of all is that we are all in this together and we respect the time each family has in the morning and in the afternoon. Sometimes it is tricky because children cry and they don’t want to stay goodbye. We have all become real supporters of each other, and we know everything is going to be fine at both sides of the door.
As an educator and a mom, I want to invite parents, families, caregivers, and teachers to navigate this difficult time as a community. To be there for each other. If you are a returning family to your daycare, offer some support and some words of knowledge to the new parents that did not have the privilege of being inside as you did. If you are a teacher, take that time in the morning and during drop off without guilt that you are making everybody else “wait.” I am pretty sure we can all understand that a small, simple anecdote of how the day was makes a parent smile inside.
For more information, please see this related post on teacher strategies to support the transition into preschool.
Tatiana Bacigalupe is a Screening and Assessment Specialist at the Institute.