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June 1, 2017

Saying Goodbye in Preschool

By Elaine Winter
Grades PreK–K

    There is a particular intimacy that comes with preschool teaching.  We get to know our children so very well.  We remember exactly how they presented in September — cautious and shy, raucous and unmodulated, barely verbal, challenged by group dynamics. And now, here they are, not quite model citizens, but confident, respectful, independent, and caring members of our classroom community.

    We’ve played a part in each of these transitions — nudging, limiting, encouraging, comforting. From the get-go, it’s up close and personal in the preschool world.

    We’ve also formed an intimacy with the parents of these children. They’ve shared personal struggles, their parenting challenges and rewards; they’ve sought our counsel, told us they are expecting, divorcing, suddenly unemployed or about to move. We’ve spoken to them about their children and offered a new lens.

    At the end of each school year, we leave behind the closeness of all these relationships. Although genuine warmth, trust, and friendship may endure, that particular kind of intimacy is no more. I feel that loss acutely.

    Our NYC preschool program is free-standing. Four- and five-year-olds head off to kindergartens or Universal PreK programs within our city’s ongoing schools, both independent or public. When they leave, we consider it a “real” goodbye. We won’t run into them every day, possibly never again. But, because we are situated within a music school, many do return for instrument or dance instruction. Not the same, but wonderful.

    Younger preschoolers remain in our program and transition from their current class to the next. They say goodbye to their teachers, but not to their school. As their former teachers, we still see and enjoy them frequently, though with greater distance. This feels just right.

    The Preschooler’s POV: None of us really knows how preschoolers anticipate these passages when they truly don’t know what’s coming their way. For most children, I imagine each of these transitions looms large. Regardless of their maturity and the many reassurances they receive, their next school year is an unknown. Even with an older sibling, few children have the perspective to accurately imagine, or trust, their next school experience. They may wonder: How will I feel about my teacher, my classmates, classroom, and school? What will be expected of me? Will I be cared for and loved? What will be the same? Different? Of course, preschoolers don’t actually tease apart these aspects, but muddled together their questions become concerns. It’s scary.

    I think about the last time I was asked to step outside my comfort zone, and I can relate. (But I will refrain from illustrating . . . we each have our own “zones”!) When the last day of school arrives, our preschoolers will say goodbye to the comfort of familiar rituals and routines, predictable play with classmates and caring relationships with teachers.  They’ll leave for their summer experiences and a fall of unknowns.

    Goodbye Feelings: Feelings are always tricky to tease out because, while we can agree that there are many common threads, each child’s journey is unique. Also, because children’s feelings ebb and flow. Lauren feels confident today, nervous tomorrow; Drew isn’t thinking about summer at all on Friday, but it’s on his mind big time when he returns from the weekend.

    I try to tune into new or unusual behaviors to see if these reflect children’s worries about upcoming goodbyes. Seth has started hitting or crying at the drop of a hat.  Alice is having more bathroom accidents than usual. Justin doesn’t want his mom to leave at drop-off. These may well be our kids responding to the unknown that lies ahead. How then do we help our kids with this muddle of feelings?!? Here are some strategies I’ve tried with varying levels of success:

                •          Tackle your own feelings first; remember that you’ve helped these children in so many ways over the past ten months. Even those who rely on you the most are sturdier, more resilient, and ready for the next chapter.

                •          Listen a lot. As your preschoolers wash their hands, set up for snack, work on Mobilos, listen in.

                •          Create small group times when you can just BE with children exchanging thoughts and (again) listening with no goal other than connecting.

                •          Read books that explore feelings related to goodbyes, others that describe entering a new classroom environment.

                •          Create summer picture graphs or Venn diagrams: CAMP / VACATION / BOTH (I take care to avoid elitist references, keeping these terms as general as possible. Vacation can be a resort in Galapagos or Gramma’s in Sandusky.  It’s all the same.  Ben said to me this week:  Elaine!  I have good news!! I’m going to Far Rockaway this weekend and I’ll jump off the lifeguard’s chair! Now that’s a vacation.)

                •          Keep your students busy with tasks that start and end in one sitting. Extended projects may have less appeal.

                •          Recruit their help in packing and cleaning; what could be more fun than washing LEGO bricks in a sudsy water table!

                •          Sing songs from earlier in the year. Read books that are old, familiar favorites.

                •          Remind children over and over and over again how much they have grown, how skilled and competent, how kind and friendly they have become. Let them know how proud you are of them.

    Ways of Saying Goodbye: One tool I like to draw upon is graphing. The process can be 100 percent first-person, with children on either side of a midline; it can be done with square unit blocks or unifix cubes, or it can be noted with marker on chart paper. Graphing concretizes expectations and in doing so, it calms. Graphing also illustrates the commonality of upcoming change; we’re all in this together. I’m not the only one heading off into the unknown. Whew!

    Here are a few possible graphing directions:

                •          What I’ll do this summer:  Camp/Vacation/Both

                •          How I feel about next year: Excited/Nervous/Both

                •          My favorite part of school is:  Art/ Meeting/Outdoor time/Block building/Music (I like to omit lunch . . . that’s a given.)

                •          Things I think will be the same or different in my new class/school.  (I remember when 4-year-old Trevor told me,  “Next year all the Fours gonna be five and all the Fives gonna be four!” Just working it out…)

    Not everything is graph-able, of course.  Sometimes we need lists, such as:

                •          Favorite songs, snacks, books, cooking experiences, etc.

                •          One thing I couldn’t do when I started school, but now I can

    If your group of preschoolers will remain within your school, you might make the unknown familiar through:

                •          visits to their new classroom/s; current preschoolers might talk about their day

                •          a visit from their teacher-to-be; s/he might read a story

    Then that last day arrives, bringing with it relief and release from the responsibilities we’ve carried with us over the past ten months, and the bitter-sweetness of saying good-bye to these children we care and know so much about. And their parents. Have tissues ready.

    A Personal Goodbye: This is my final Scholastic blog post. I’ll be returning to a full-time focus on our preschool program. Creating this series of Top Teaching posts has been an enormous privilege.  I’ve had tremendous support from my colleagues.  I’ve discovered aspects of my teaching I’d long forgotten, and I’ve questioned and reflected on areas I thought were givens.  Thank you for reading!

    There is a particular intimacy that comes with preschool teaching.  We get to know our children so very well.  We remember exactly how they presented in September — cautious and shy, raucous and unmodulated, barely verbal, challenged by group dynamics. And now, here they are, not quite model citizens, but confident, respectful, independent, and caring members of our classroom community.

    We’ve played a part in each of these transitions — nudging, limiting, encouraging, comforting. From the get-go, it’s up close and personal in the preschool world.

    We’ve also formed an intimacy with the parents of these children. They’ve shared personal struggles, their parenting challenges and rewards; they’ve sought our counsel, told us they are expecting, divorcing, suddenly unemployed or about to move. We’ve spoken to them about their children and offered a new lens.

    At the end of each school year, we leave behind the closeness of all these relationships. Although genuine warmth, trust, and friendship may endure, that particular kind of intimacy is no more. I feel that loss acutely.

    Our NYC preschool program is free-standing. Four- and five-year-olds head off to kindergartens or Universal PreK programs within our city’s ongoing schools, both independent or public. When they leave, we consider it a “real” goodbye. We won’t run into them every day, possibly never again. But, because we are situated within a music school, many do return for instrument or dance instruction. Not the same, but wonderful.

    Younger preschoolers remain in our program and transition from their current class to the next. They say goodbye to their teachers, but not to their school. As their former teachers, we still see and enjoy them frequently, though with greater distance. This feels just right.

    The Preschooler’s POV: None of us really knows how preschoolers anticipate these passages when they truly don’t know what’s coming their way. For most children, I imagine each of these transitions looms large. Regardless of their maturity and the many reassurances they receive, their next school year is an unknown. Even with an older sibling, few children have the perspective to accurately imagine, or trust, their next school experience. They may wonder: How will I feel about my teacher, my classmates, classroom, and school? What will be expected of me? Will I be cared for and loved? What will be the same? Different? Of course, preschoolers don’t actually tease apart these aspects, but muddled together their questions become concerns. It’s scary.

    I think about the last time I was asked to step outside my comfort zone, and I can relate. (But I will refrain from illustrating . . . we each have our own “zones”!) When the last day of school arrives, our preschoolers will say goodbye to the comfort of familiar rituals and routines, predictable play with classmates and caring relationships with teachers.  They’ll leave for their summer experiences and a fall of unknowns.

    Goodbye Feelings: Feelings are always tricky to tease out because, while we can agree that there are many common threads, each child’s journey is unique. Also, because children’s feelings ebb and flow. Lauren feels confident today, nervous tomorrow; Drew isn’t thinking about summer at all on Friday, but it’s on his mind big time when he returns from the weekend.

    I try to tune into new or unusual behaviors to see if these reflect children’s worries about upcoming goodbyes. Seth has started hitting or crying at the drop of a hat.  Alice is having more bathroom accidents than usual. Justin doesn’t want his mom to leave at drop-off. These may well be our kids responding to the unknown that lies ahead. How then do we help our kids with this muddle of feelings?!? Here are some strategies I’ve tried with varying levels of success:

                •          Tackle your own feelings first; remember that you’ve helped these children in so many ways over the past ten months. Even those who rely on you the most are sturdier, more resilient, and ready for the next chapter.

                •          Listen a lot. As your preschoolers wash their hands, set up for snack, work on Mobilos, listen in.

                •          Create small group times when you can just BE with children exchanging thoughts and (again) listening with no goal other than connecting.

                •          Read books that explore feelings related to goodbyes, others that describe entering a new classroom environment.

                •          Create summer picture graphs or Venn diagrams: CAMP / VACATION / BOTH (I take care to avoid elitist references, keeping these terms as general as possible. Vacation can be a resort in Galapagos or Gramma’s in Sandusky.  It’s all the same.  Ben said to me this week:  Elaine!  I have good news!! I’m going to Far Rockaway this weekend and I’ll jump off the lifeguard’s chair! Now that’s a vacation.)

                •          Keep your students busy with tasks that start and end in one sitting. Extended projects may have less appeal.

                •          Recruit their help in packing and cleaning; what could be more fun than washing LEGO bricks in a sudsy water table!

                •          Sing songs from earlier in the year. Read books that are old, familiar favorites.

                •          Remind children over and over and over again how much they have grown, how skilled and competent, how kind and friendly they have become. Let them know how proud you are of them.

    Ways of Saying Goodbye: One tool I like to draw upon is graphing. The process can be 100 percent first-person, with children on either side of a midline; it can be done with square unit blocks or unifix cubes, or it can be noted with marker on chart paper. Graphing concretizes expectations and in doing so, it calms. Graphing also illustrates the commonality of upcoming change; we’re all in this together. I’m not the only one heading off into the unknown. Whew!

    Here are a few possible graphing directions:

                •          What I’ll do this summer:  Camp/Vacation/Both

                •          How I feel about next year: Excited/Nervous/Both

                •          My favorite part of school is:  Art/ Meeting/Outdoor time/Block building/Music (I like to omit lunch . . . that’s a given.)

                •          Things I think will be the same or different in my new class/school.  (I remember when 4-year-old Trevor told me,  “Next year all the Fours gonna be five and all the Fives gonna be four!” Just working it out…)

    Not everything is graph-able, of course.  Sometimes we need lists, such as:

                •          Favorite songs, snacks, books, cooking experiences, etc.

                •          One thing I couldn’t do when I started school, but now I can

    If your group of preschoolers will remain within your school, you might make the unknown familiar through:

                •          visits to their new classroom/s; current preschoolers might talk about their day

                •          a visit from their teacher-to-be; s/he might read a story

    Then that last day arrives, bringing with it relief and release from the responsibilities we’ve carried with us over the past ten months, and the bitter-sweetness of saying good-bye to these children we care and know so much about. And their parents. Have tissues ready.

    A Personal Goodbye: This is my final Scholastic blog post. I’ll be returning to a full-time focus on our preschool program. Creating this series of Top Teaching posts has been an enormous privilege.  I’ve had tremendous support from my colleagues.  I’ve discovered aspects of my teaching I’d long forgotten, and I’ve questioned and reflected on areas I thought were givens.  Thank you for reading!

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