On Becoming a Parent - A Preschool Teacher's View

Before moving to Duxbury last year, I was a preschool teacher in Washington DC. I fell in love with scores of children aged 2-5 years old. I'm impressed by how capable they are when you slow down and really watch them as they move through their day. For example, getting to know the new environment and people in their class at the beginning of the year. These are the primary challenges children face upfront starting school. Most of the 2 year-olds entering our program had never before been without their parents in a large group of children and strange adults. In the first week, parents themselves were often full of anxiety about leaving their children at school. Inevitably, during goodbyes there were tears in the eyes of some children, and of some parents.

As the teacher, I understood their fear of separation, and I knew that as soon as the parent left, the child would begin a process of settling in and discovering another world - one with a group of their peers and two more loving adults who would share in experiences of creativity and fascinating interactions. I knew the children were just about to embark on a very fun journey - one that they would soon look forward to joining again every morning. They were adding another dimension to their identity - gaining a sense of self in another supportive environment outside their homes - becoming more independent. All of which I am confident is a good thing. So while I sympathized with the scared child and guilty parent, I didn't totally get it. Not being a mom myself, I couldn't empathize with the all-consuming worry of being a parent, dropping her child off at school for the first time. We teachers would softly suggest that parents finish their goodbyes and go, assuring them their children would be alright, and that we would contact them if there was undue lingering sadness. We called this "ripping off the Bandaid". And it was always alright.

Some children needed more teacher snuggles than others. Some needed more time. But everyone came around to enjoying school, because it was a loving and fun-filled place, and because the children had within them the seeds necessary to flourish in a pre-kindergarten - curiosity, a desire to play with other children, trust, self-confidence, a sense of adventure and a drive to master new skills.

MotherChildWoods2016But now I am a mom, and no matter what I know as a teacher - it's hard to leave my child! Suddenly, I "appreciate" the sense of weight that comes with the responsibility of being someone's primary caregiver. From the moment my son was born, I jumped at his cries feeling disturbed that he was disturbed. The connection we shared, having been one being during pregnancy, and in many ways during the first months after birth, is difficult to describe. I suppose it's the thing referred to as "the mothering instinct' - the hard-wiring that ensures humans care for their young. To me, it feels like a perpetual state of love-flavored anxiety. Especially in the early months, when I was just getting to know my new baby, I was compelled through my days by a sense of need to care for his needs. There were joyful moments, but it often felt more like an act of duty to be up with him in the wee hours of the night when I was sore from feeding and holding him, and not knowing why he was still crying. And yet, I couldn't bear the thought of not answering when he cried. I remember when my mother-in-law had him at the family Thanksgiving party. He was crying after being passed around all the relatives, and she was going to take him into another room so I could finish eating. "Don't worry," she said, "I'm not bothered by his crying". "It's not you I'm worried about," I snapped, gulping down un-chewed mouthfuls of dry turkey. Was it him I was concerned for? Yes, of course, but it was
also me. I needed to respond to the urgent drive within me to comfort him. The emotions involved in being a parent are intense. The fact that's cliché doesn't make it easier to navigate your first time around.

Before I had a child, I knew I would get conflicting advice on how to parent. But I didn't know I'd feel so confused by it. It's amazing how being in the role of mother changes my perception - making it hard to stand back and take an objective view. There's what I want to happen (sleep), and what I don't want to happen (upset). And I don't always know what's the right thing to do, but I know what I don't want to do - whether or not is seems reasonable or practical. I struggle with this more than I thought I would. Even after listening to the advice and reading the books and choosing the strategies that make the most sense to me and our family - it can be a challenge to carry through and get relatives on-board, or even, especially, Baby himself. It all seemed so much clearer when I was a teacher. Then, for example, I knew crawling was important for brain development, and a few months of crawling helped children build neuropathways and connections around the brain, lending to hand-eye coordination, fine and gross motor skills, spacial awareness, independence, etc., etc. So, obviously, I decided I would "let" my baby crawl. And yet, I hadn't considered that my baby might prefer not to crawl, but instead be "walked" around by grownups holding him up by his hands so he could totter around on two unready feet. Or that our relatives would be all too happy to oblige him, and hurt when I'd ask them not to. I hadn't bargained for the amount of work that would be involved in explaining to them, or inspiring him to move on his hands and knees, spending a week crawling around the house with my husband. In the end it was silly, and even fun, but it was not as straight forward as I thought it would be. And it was much more emotionally fraught than it probably needed to be.

I like to think that if we have a second child, I'll be a lot more comfortable and confident in my parenting that time around. But I'd like to say now to all the parents I wished would just leave their child at school already during those long, drawn out goodbyes - when I stood by and waited as a teacher - I get you now. I feel what you're grappling with. And to the good teachers and child-care providers out there who know how to help a child transition away from their parents happily - thank you. A child needs all these different kinds of love and support. And while I recognize this cerebrally now, I hope I will soon be ready to put it into practice, as I put my son into day care. Some day. Soon.

(Naomi Alfini is a TCELS Board member, mother and educator.)


Recently, I had the opportunity to partner with the director and staff at The Children’s Early Learning Space in their pursuit to continually improve the quality of care they provide to children and families. I was welcomed in by staff and met with their eagerness and openness to learn and grow in both knowledge and skills. Transformations were rapid and expansive as everyone assessed: their classrooms’ structures, schedules, and activities; their knowledge, skills, values, beliefs, perceptions, and assumptions; and their personal styles of interacting with families, children, and fellow staff. These assessments were focused through the lens of inclusion of all children and the support of each child’s self-esteem, confidence, and competence. In addition to this work was the review of program philosophies and policies, and reaffirmation of the importance of relationships, flexibility, and a strengths-based system. This program continues to shift from a child-centered focus into a family-centered focus, with the belief that strong families build strong communities and strong communities build strong families. Staff gained a deeper understanding of child behavior and developed many new strategies in supporting positive behaviors through a proactive, strengths-based approach. I am excited to see where this drive for quality will lead The Children’s Early Learning Space in the future. Thank you to Tina Grant and her amazing staff for inviting me in to be part of this growing process.

(Claire Berry is a Specialized Child Care Resource Development Specialist at the Family Center of Washington County)

The Fundamentals of Early Childhood Education

As our children grow, they transition through many different stages. Each and every one of these stages is critical to the overall development of the child. This is why early learning is crucial. Providing access to high quality early education is the best way to give your child a head start in life.

Here are the fundamental reasons why early childhood education is so important: (1) Language development - Early education can be the key to proper language development. Between the ages of one and five, children develop the language skills that they will carry with them through their entire lives. By placing your child in the right learning environment, they are more likely to take part in age appropriate conversations, helping your child build the communication foundation they’ll need to acquire more advanced language skills. Having your child involved in a supportive educational child care environment is a socially constructive way for your child to learn from their peers and practice speech; (2) Social development - This is probably one of the most important skill sets that a child will learn through an early learning program. Socializing with other children and adults in a setting that fosters safety, creativity and consistent structure is a great way to positively build your child’s self-esteem. In a peer group environment, your child will learn social skills through role-playing games, educational games, and working on group projects with other children. This will give your child a sense of accomplishment that helps build and strengthen character; (3) Cognitive or memory development - Enrolling your child in a preschool or child care program that fosters developmentally appropriate curriculum will help your child build the cognitive skills required to comfortably thrive while developing their learning foundation, providing the confidence needed to adapt more rapidly when they reach kindergarten and on into grade school.

At The Children's Early Learning Space in Duxbury, Vermont we believe in the power of early learning. Our dedicated staff works tirelessly to provide a safe and secure environment for your child to learn and have fun while they are in our care. The benefits begin with our Infant Program, where through play, consistent structure and personal engagement within a safe environment, our infants begin the discovery learning process. As they transition into our Toddler Program for children ages 18 months to 3 years, they continue their exploration via self expression through creative learning exercises and predictable routines - all within a teacher to student ratio that provides comprehensive attention and positive reinforcement. From Toddlers to Preschool, preparation for the primary school transition builds confidence, self-esteem and provides the building blocks for a smooth transition to a more focused curriculum.

The Children’s Early Learning Space is a wonderful place for your child to experience the basic building blocks needed for positive educational development. Once your child is a part of our center, we will work with a focus towards our common goal of delivering confident, well-prepared children, ready to embark on the wonderful journey of higher learning and to help them build local friendships that may last a lifetime.

(Tony Walton is TCELS Board President and founding partner of New England Landmark Realty)

It is with great pleasure that I write The Children’s Early Learning Space’s first blog entry. I have been the
Program Director of TCELS for the past 3 years. Over this time, I have seen us grow and change while keeping
perspective on our relationships with children and families. The role of Program Director has been an adventure,
learning about the growing services available for our families and making the connections that bring our philosophy,
mission and vision to the community. Sitting on the Bright Futures Council of professionals and working with
Children’s Integrated Services and Thatcher Brook Primary School has shed light on who we can connect our families
with, and where we can grow. I enjoy working with teachers and have made it a priority to support our classrooms.

Before becoming Director, I taught in each of our programs, investing myself in the children’s learning and watching
them evolve from infants to preschoolers. I have a passion for helping children learn how to build healthy
relationships. This is important for developing their confidence and mental health and increases their motivation to
learn. I’ve learned as much from them as they’ve learned from me. The launch of our website is another growing
experience that honestly would not have happened as quickly, or as neatly, if we did not have the dedication of our
Office Manager Karen. I am so excited about this new adventure as a way for us to be able to reach out with
information about who we are and how we can connect families with the resources they need. Each TCELS family touches
my life as they share their most precious gift for a moment in time, a time that will remain as a special memory.

(Tina Grant is the Program Director of The Children's Early Learning Space)


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