I caught the M11 yesterday, uptown on Columbus, to pick up Jonah from daycare. As I boarded, I noticed with surprise the two young girls in front of me: former students of mine, when I taught in classroom 7. Now in third grade, they were coming from their swim class at the JCC and were heading home after a long day. After not seeing them for a few years, I had run into them (they seem to always be together) in the JCC lobby in September, and we were each excited to be seeing each again on the bus. There was lots to catch up on: I wanted to hear about third grade, and the girls wanted to talk about nursery school memories. We talked mostly about memories – they are a persuasive pair.
What are you learning about now in school?
We’re doing multiplication. Like all the 10s, that kind of stuff.
And I’m even learning the 11s, like 6 times 11 is 66. You just take the number, and put it in front of itself, and then you get 66!
But we wish we were at the nursery school. We got to do such fun stuff at the nursery school, and not multiplication.
We did have a lot of fun in nursery school.
Whoa, so many memories are coming back to me! (I swear, she actually said that)
We look at the JCC binders at home for the memories.
You still have your journey binders at home?
Yea we like always look through them. She’s in all the pictures in mine!
Yea at nursery school we were in the same class but at school now we’re never in the same class.
But it looks like you’re still friends?
Yea! We had swim class together today. I’m always the youngest in the swim class.
And I’m always the oldest.
So she always helps me out.
Yea, like I go, then she goes, then I go, then she goes.
You know, sometimes we have alumni – do you know that word? – come back and help at the nursery school, to teach the young children things.
Whoa! We could come back?
I would want to teach art to them.
That’s right, you loved painting in nursery school.
Remember we would come in early each morning and do painting? (They did – they would arrive as a pair most mornings for early drop off and spend the time setting up the paint supplies for the other children and working on their own paintings)
Yea – remember the butterfly painting I made? I still have it. It’s framed in my apartment! (I do remember – she worked on this single painting every morning for two months, gently returning it to the drying rack as the other children would arrive and placing it back on the easel early the following morning.)
I’m glad to hear you still have the painting! You worked very hard on it. I have a question for you – why did you always choose art?
Because we would get there early, and then we would choose art.
But you could have chosen blocks, or puzzles. Why did you choose art?
Because in art you can never make a mistake, you just keep adding and adding and adding and adding and adding and adding and adding. (This was in fact exactly what she did, adding a few brushstrokes to the butterfly each morning.)
Yea, art is our favorite. But now we only do it in art class, not like all the time like at nursery school.
As their grown-up announced it was their stop, we traded high-fives. I stayed on for one more stop, then got off and slowly walked the avenue over to Jonah’s daycare. I was in somewhat of a daze. I had taught these girls five years ago, yet their appreciation of our time together seemed as fresh as if it was yesterday.
We teach because we believe we can have a positive influence on children. We teach because we believe we can expose children to the possibilities of the world. We teach because we think early experiences matter greatly. We know what we do works, because theories, practice, and research confirms it. But we so rarely get to see, first hand for ourselves, what happens, years later, after our teaching. I have always kept in my mind the image of these two three year olds arriving early to set up the painting easel, carefully and intentionally working on their art; I had no idea they kept it in mind also. To know that they still look through their journey binder, and still have their art from nursery school on the wall, connected so many dots for me.
As I walked into Jonah’s daycare room, I was again overtaken by emotion, remembering that this was his last day in the “baby room” and that the next day he would be starting in the “infant room.” I thought about all the wonderful experiences with the loving teachers he had in this room: shaking maracas, painting with his hands, crawling up a ramp, and on. Remembering my chat with the girls on the bus, it drove the point home: these experiences will be with him for years to come and will shape who he is.
Nursery school is a place where we become who we are. It is a place of meandering, experimentation, and messing about. In a play-based environment, where children choose their activities daily, they are allowed to explore not only the classroom but themselves. What is your child exploring this year? What are they messing around with in the classroom? How might this be impacting them for the years to come? What will they have to say when they run into their teacher in five years on the bus?