Life's a journey not a destination, right?

Yet as New Yorkers, we often lose site of the journey and are so pre-occupied with the destination. We are upset when the train is late, when the cab takes a less-then-ideal route, and when that person in front of us just isn’t walking fast enough! We enroll our child in the right nursery school so they will get into the right kindergarten so they will get into the right college. The destination seems to be, often and unwittingly, obscuring the journey.

As early child educators, we are privy to the world’s best reminders to enjoy the journey and let the destination arrive when it may – your children! Watching one of our infant younger-siblings in the Common Space today I was reminded of the young child’s ability to find such joy and exuberance in the small moments. He was gleefully army-crawling across our recently-buffed tile floor, scotching along at a rapid pace. He and his caregiver had arrived early for the big siblings pick up. Rather than wait idly by, the infant made life beautiful. And suddenly a small crowd of us – caregivers, teachers, and parents –were watching joyfully as he wriggled his way around the floor.

Earlier this week, the New York Times had a brief and humorous, yet insightful, article in the Travel section highlighting the author’s realization that her three year old son actually enjoys the waiting time (and incessant delays) at airports (read the article!). This was our infant on the Common Space floor – he wasn’t early for picking up his big sister, he was perfectly on-time for enthusiastic crawling. Earlier this week, picking up Jonah from daycare, we entered the 96th street train station and I audibly groaned as I saw the ticker read five minutes until our train would arrive. Jonah asked me why I groaned - and I felt so silly explaining that I was upset we had to wait a whole five minutes. I mean, who is the three year old here?! Impervious to the adult-perceived deleterious effects of waiting a few minutes, Jonah smiled and looked around the train station. He was soon bubbling over with questions and observations about just about everything he saw. Lesson learned, dad – waiting for the train is just a good opportunity to learn about the world.

This has come up recently in my course this semester at Teachers College (I am working towards and EdD there). We have been speaking about the stellar research focusing on the positive impact that high quality early education makes over the course of a child’s life, and how despite the clear improvements this has made to public policy regarding early education and care, it has also left some of us (parents and educators alike) with a narrow-minded focus on using nursery years to “prep” children for later experiences. The discussion in our class recently has turned towards re-inserting an emphasis on the here-and-now for our young learners – they are not in school only so they can be successful later (the destination), but because they deserve – they have the right – to slow down, enjoy themselves, along the way (the journey).

As educators, we are at times put on the defensive and asked to explain our choices – Why do you still use playdo in PreK?  Why does my child play mommy/baby every day? Shouldn’t my son be doing something other than blocks all day long? Often, we answer these questions from a child-development-perspective: Playdo helps your child develop stronger graphomotor muscles, allowing them to obtain more fluent penmanship in elementary school; family play gives your child a safe space to establish social relationships, allowing them to feel confident during recess and in the cafeteria in the years to come; block play is setting your child up to have a strong foundation in STEM concepts such as gravity and symmetry, and STEM jobs will be exploding when your child graduates college!

All of those answer are true. And yet, they leave out what we deeply believe here – children’s lives should be full of whimsy, spontaneity, and – yes – moments of boredom that they must strive to fill with their own ideas. Just like the three year old in the airport, our attention to your children while at school is not only on getting them to arrive at their destination, but on making sure they soak up every moment of the journey as it passes by. We play in water and sand tables because of the developmental benefits, of which there are many – but also importantly, because of how gosh darn fun it is! Play time is the most important part of our daily schedule here not only because children learn through play, but because children deserve protected spaces to simply enjoy themselves.

Shabbat shalom,