“A home away from home.…” Of the many goals parents consider leading up to joining the Early Childhood Program at TSCS, and of all the talks and discussions in faculty training, this is the phrase that sticks in my mind most, both as a mother and a teacher.
This year the PreK 4 and Kindergarten classes moved into new buildings. On the outside, they are somewhat generic. The color scheme mimics the rest of South Campus, and over time more finishing touches have been added to make them feel connected with the other buildings. However, for the insides of the buildings, we teachers had the opportunity to create an environment that carries a sense of home from the very first day of school.
For weeks leading up to the start of school, I kept this phrase in mind while we worked in the classroom to arrange furniture, unpack boxes, place carpets, and assemble finishing touches. Many pieces came from previous classrooms, but some final touches (such as artwork, planters, or vases) came from teachers’ own collections. A painting of my own for the kitchen, a planter from a grandmother for a classroom, lovely pastural posters of cows, lamps in several corners, and a candle for morning prayers: these are the elements chosen to fill the space with warmth. We want this space to be beautiful. We want this space to be comfortable. We want this space to be a haven for wonder, just as our homes can be.
In the classroom I share with Tricia LaRocca, cubbies line the wall, each serving as a place for students to store belongings and shoes as they enter. There is a great rug anchored in the middle of the room. On this rug we begin our days with prayer: for our community, and for those who are unwell at home. Songs are sung, poems recited, and wonderful stories told, many having survived the test of time. In the corner stands a kitchen, a dress-up bin, and blocks o’ plenty. A great many imaginative games have been played in our beloved Play Corner. Knights have saved princesses, bridges and cityscapes have been built, and friendships built as well. Next to this is our Big Table, where we share our meals and craft art projects. Skills and virtue are learned around this table, just as they are at the family dinner table. Finally, there is our cozy Reading Nook for students to enjoy a quiet moment while exploring a book.
Throughout the past semester, I have seen the phrase “A home away from home” ring true in many of our daily practices. In the rhythm of our days, the students are guided to move in and care for the classroom as if it were their home. We all have daily duties to keep the classroom clean. We keep our belongings tidy and in their place. Many jump at the chance to be the table wiper or the light manager! We share meals together. During rest time, each one is quiet and still so that those needing more rest can sleep peacefully. In a sense, we are not only a class but a little family, caring for each other through our daily routines.
It is beautiful to witness the care these students have for each other as they remind us to pray for those who are absent, comfort friends who may be having a hard day, or join in cleanup while singing, “Tick-tock goes the clock.” We encourage our students to grow in wonder while growing also in virtue. Be kind to those around you; share even when it is hard; love your classmate, especially when it is hard. As a parent, this is one of many reasons I’ve been personally grateful to have my child in the PreK program.
This month we enter a new semester in the Early Childhood program. I am eager to see the ways our students will grow, and especially what they will teach me in our “home away from home.”