They are positive, enthusiastic and energetic. They make friends easily and are walking, talking sponges, ready to learn and absorb all that the world will throw at them.
I’ve been a preschool teacher for 35 years and learning from my class is part of what makes it so special and keeps me coming back each year. In no way is it a one way exchange, from adult to child.
I have always felt honored to be able to spend such an important time with the next generation and help to set them on the right path for life.
Here are the six most important lessons that I have distilled from all my years with preschoolers and that I try to apply to my life every day.
- Laugh at Yourself
Being a preschool teacher has really taught me how to laugh at myself.
Here’s an example:
I’ve always had extremely curly hair and recently, for the first time ever, I had it straightened.
When I arrived at preschool, the children burst into fits of laughter. Who knew that straight hair could be so funny?
Another time recently was when a child covered me from head to toe in spray paint – there’s not much you can do but laugh in that situation!
There are many things about each of us that can be humorous, rather than negative, if only we’d let them. Being around young children so much has forced me to take myself less seriously and default to laughing, rather than taking offence.
Life certainly is a lot easier and more pleasant when you let things bounce off you with a smile.
- Tell the Truth
Preschool children are matter-of-fact and blunt with the truth. I think the world would function much more smoothly if we all worked this way.
Truthful and direct feedback also helps us build resilience, instead of being cushioned from reality and the world view of those around us.
You see it often when the children are interacting with each other. For example, a child might say: “that doesn’t look like a dog” in reference to another child’s artwork.
Naturally, we try and teach our kids to be respectful, but it’s also important that they feel comfortable in their own thoughts and opinions.
I think as educators and parents we need to work harder to help children maintain this truthful side by encouraging children to offer honest opinions.
- The Significance of the Human Touch
There is nothing quite like that feeling when a little hand slips into yours quietly, without a word.
This makes us all feel so special but it also teaches us about the significance of the human touch for everyone.
Take the time to smile at people and give hugs generously; there are probably people in your life who could use one.
- We All Need a Time to be Carefree
Preschool is a time when all children can be carefree.
Some children come from difficult backgrounds, but when you see them skip or run through the preschool gate and call out ‘hello’ they make it clear that they are there to have fun in a safe environment.
We need to provide this part of their childhood, and sometimes, where necessary, ensure that they are able to have a childhood.
By the same token, it’s important for adults to take time out of our day-to-day lives once in a while to recharge, forget our troubles and be ready to face the world again.
- Maintain Delight and Wonder in Learning
In the more challenging moments of being a preschool teacher (we do have those occasionally), I love to look back on photos of my children and reflect on the delight and wonder they have in learning.
One of my favorite snapshots that I have is from a science experiment we did; when the volcano erupted, the amazement is captured with every child’s mouth held wide open.
As we all go through life we are continually learning. It makes the world an exciting place if we can maintain this passion for learning past our childhood.
- Live by Example
As teachers, we are constant role models for our children.
This really hits home when you see a group of children playing pretend schools.
Listen to the child that is pretending to be the teacher. In their voice, body language and other mannerisms they reflect clearly the teachers in their life.
It’s so important that we keep in mind the example we are setting. Children are perceptive and pick up on a lot more than we sometimes realize. It’s good to have these frequent reminders to be the absolute best version of ourselves, live honestly and always treat people kindly.
As we get older, we find it easy to lose contact with our inner child. The everyday grind of life gets in the way of genuinely enjoying ourselves. We take ourselves too seriously and focus too heavily on perception over substance.
Our children have much to teach us about what’s really important in life. They live life the way we wish we could – and they keep us accountable for what we say and do.
I may have spent my whole life educating children, but not a single day goes by that they don’t teach me something as well.