Contributed by Denise Pawlukiewicz, Toddler Classroom Lead Teacher
Parents often ask me what they can expect when their children join the Toddler class. The simple answer is that even I don’t know what to expect from year to year, since every child and every class is unique. Of course, this is part of the joy of working with very young children. They will spend much of their time in our room exploring their new need for independence, a process which will look different for each child. The classroom itself will always be structured the same, of course, designed for free exploration and self-discovery during this time of their lives known as the Sensitive Period for Order .
The very outgoing child will happily leave their mom, dad, or caregiver behind and bound into the classroom, ready and eager to begin their new day. The more reserved child will come in willingly, albeit with one eye toward the door, just in case. The cautious child will “size up” the situation, agreeing to follow our routines, but approaching each task only after seeing someone else tackle it. It is not uncommon for the very cautious child to spend more than a few classes observing what the other children are doing while not appearing to be a participant themselves. This is a normal process for many children, as they need to create a sense of how things work in their new environment.
It is not unusual for many of the children to cry as they come into school in the first weeks of class. For the most part tears stop fairly quickly after the children enter the classroom and see other children happily going about their day. Gaining the trust of some children can take a bit longer, especially if they have never been in the care of a non-family member. These children, too, eventually will come to form a bond with us and with the other children, and will settle into a chair to tackle a new task every morning.
The long Orientation period allows the children the time they need to understand the classroom routine. Routine, routine, routine — knowing what to expect and what is expected of them gives the children a sense of security; there are no foundation-shaking surprises in the classroom since every day follows the same pattern.
After just a few days in our Toddler classroom, many parents will find that their children have a sudden interest in washing their hands, or hanging their coats on a hanger. Or they may have a funny new way of putting on their own jackets. I’ve known some children who want to roll up all of the area rugs in their homes, or dust shelves with a feather duster. And some children ask that their names be written on all of the artwork done at home. As you might have guessed, these are all part of the classroom routines – reinforcing what your child learns in the classroom at home is a great way to be involved in their learning experience!
The real answer as to what can be expected when children join the Toddler class is that we will all discover that together, in each opportunity-rich day.