I have a child in my classroom. We’ll call this child Wendy. Wendy is bright, affectionate, and set in her single-digit aged ways. Her arms and eyes plead for your attention one moment and cross and close, respectively, in defiance to your instruction the next. Perhaps you’ve met a Wendy before. If you’re a teacher, parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, or ever been to the grocery store, you’d be hard pressed not to have met Wendy. For Wendy’s needs are not unique. She is, in fact, every child.
As an educator who spends eight hours a day with twenty children, I am afforded the opportunity to engage with, teach, discipline, and monitor my students’ growth in a classroom setting. I know which children I need to encourage to be more vocal during circle time, which children can play well independently during the free play periods, and which children need their cots placed in areas of the classroom where there is less to see and reach in order to achieve a restful sleep during the nap period. Wendy is one such student, who I know needs a quiet place to sleep where she can not reach toys or make faces with her classmates when she needs to rest, in order to be prepared for the second half of her day at school. That is why I put her cot in the library area of the classroom. There, she is surrounded by books, which are intended to afford her a restful sleep…but not always.
Her nap period often starts with tears for missing “Mommy” and “Poppy” and “Grandma.” My attempts to reassure Wendy that she will see them all soon at the end of the day are not, I venture, immediately gratifying to her needs of the moment. For the tears continue, and audibly. Then she starts to take her shoes off, and stuffs them and her blanket under her cot. She rolls off the cot, takes out the plastic clips in her hair and puts them into her mouth. Then I am worried not only about my class getting the rest they need, but also the possibility that Wendy will choke in the library area. After asking for the plastic clips to put in her cubby (“This is not food, and I do not want you to choke, that would not be safe”), Wendy refuses and smiles. Now she has my attention, and she thinks we are playing a game. I remind Wendy that it is not playtime now, and ask her to give me the hairclips again. She refuses. So after gently taking the hairclips from her fist and putting them in her cubby, she starts to cry again. My other students start to sit up on their cots, curious as to all the commotion in the library area of the classroom. I remind Wendy that she will see her family soon, but that it is now time to rest, and therefore she needs to stop crying and rest so that she and her friends will not be tired when it is time to get up for snack later on.
I often think about Wendy. During the rest of the day she will frequently hug me, tell me how much she loves me, and guide me to see her latest cooking sensation in the sand table, or block castle on the carpet. Sometimes she grows impatient for my attention when it is directed to another friend, and will turn my face to look at her or hit me on the arm. I then need to remind her that it is not acceptable to ask for my attention that way (“We use our words to ask for someone’s attention, and sometimes we need to wait a moment if I am already talking to another friend.”) I can’t help but to wonder whether Wendy is not receiving the attention she needs at home.
Of course, it is difficult for parents who hold one or two jobs outside of the house to find the time to spend time with their children. But as I have heard from many a parent whose children are now grown and starting families of their own, the years of childhood disappear in the blink of an eye. And while this article is coming from someone who has no biological children of his own (rather about fifty surrogate children over the past three years), I can attest to the miraculous speed at which my own students are growing up on a daily basis. Each day they are taller, faster, and more advanced in their cognitive skills. And pretty soon, they’ll be prepared to advance to the next level. That is why we must make the most and best of our time with our children, wherever we can.