A thousand stories, a million smiles, so many days filled with play and fun and growth.
Two years ago my husband and I decided to look into some part time childcare for our little boy. I had heard lovely things about our local preschool but being nervous, worried and all those other things I can be as a mother, I just couldn’t imagine him feeling independent enough to be happy in the care of non-family members. He was funny and lively at home, but otherwise quite shy and it felt like a big leap for him to be in a setting without me.
However, I visited, and was left with the warmest of feelings – he would be OK.
As preschool staff you aren’t just teachers – although you are of course wonderful in the teaching role. But you also offer so much nurturing and care to the children you look after. Aged just two and a quarter, S did struggle to settle in at first. He seemed to enjoy his time with you from the off – he would tell me about snack time and dressing up, and describe a game played and a story told. But each time I collected him his eyes would meet mine and fill with tears.
“Missed you!” He would tell me, holding on tight as I cuddled him and wondered if we were doing the right thing. Then he would be fine, he’d have lunch and a nap, and life would continue as normal.
I was really worried about him not settling though, I felt guilty – because although I used the 6 hours each week to do some work and general life admin, I didn’t have to do it – I could have got by with the evenings. My instinct that this lovely environment was good for him clashed with my mum doubts that I was messing him up by sending him somewhere he didn’t want to be.
So you weren’t just looking after a group of toddlers and pre-schoolers, you were looking after their parents, too. I was also in the early stages of pregnancy and the extra hormones and worries from that served to make me even more emotional. There were times I went home feeling a little weepy myself, but I held on to what you told me: He was fine – he just needed some time.
You would let me know he was OK, that he smiled lots, painted pictures and played pirates. But you were honest and also told me when he was a little quiet, tired, or out of sorts. You sat him on your knee when he was sad, you asked him about his mummy and daddy, and about his favourite toys at home.
You taught him to turn pages, to put on his coat, to pedal a trike. You helped him engage with other children and you encouraged him to express himself, make choices and most of all, to have fun.
A couple of months in and, as everyone told me, he was fine. A month or so on from that – and ever since – he has never uttered a word of resistance about attending. For the last year he has been with you for two and a half days each week and skips off happily in the morning with a hug and a smile. Quite simply he loves preschool – and I think a little part of both of us wishes he could stay there forever.
Somehow you made the outside world – the one away from his significant grown-ups – not scary. You’ve taught him so much, and you’ve taught me, too. You’ve been a regular source of inspiration and entertainment – favourite games include playing preschool – ‘Right then children – carpet time!’ – As well as him teaching me the many and varied types of action beans… ‘Ooh la la!’
And did you know you are also a very popular and excited dinnertime topic?
“Mummy, today at preschool they let me help take the register!”
“Mummy, do you know at preschool, there was this story about fussy Frida – and she wouldn’t eat her vegetables so she SHRUNK! It was so funny!”
“Mummy I made five big pies today in the MUD KITCHEN! Waaaaaahoooo”
[Jumps around, unable to contain joy]
“Today at preschool we met a POLICE OFFICER! And he put his siren on and it was so LOUD and cool!”
S hasn’t transformed into the life and soul of the party or anything, that’s not who he is and not what you are about. You have helped him celebrate who he is and feel confident in himself. He’s a ‘middler’ – and a happy one at that. He has made friends and enjoyed playing with others, singing songs and even belting out his line in the (amazingly cute) Nativity play. He joins in games and activities – unless he decides he wants to do something else – and he happily follows preschool’s structure, drinking up what is on offer each session.
He speaks of the things he does: the trips out, the chats with his teachers, the sand and water, and the thousand wonderfully random things he has learnt about.
“See you soon, you big baboon!” He called to me yesterday as he swept past on his bike, faster than I could have imagined my cautious little boy ever going. He’s happy in his skin and plays like there is no tomorrow. Exactly how life should be at age four, and I hope you know that part of that is absolutely because of the role you have played in his life during the last two years.
I don’t think a job description could truly encapsulate all that you do.
The stories you tell. The songs you sing. The worlds you create.
All of the tiny minds you capture and engage through play, fun and creativity – in the silliest and the best of ways.
And you do it every day, every week, every year.
I know there must be many times you feel unappreciated, underpaid, overworked. I know there is little glamour in wiping noses, cleaning spilt drinks, zipping zippers and completing paperwork.
But I hope you also know that you are valued. I hope you know that the children in your care treasure you. I hope you know that, as parents, we know the vital role you play in our children’s early years. And I hope you know that you totally nail the most important – and hardest – part of family life: knowing our children are happy and cared for when they aren’t with us.
So for that, and for so much more, I want to say thank you. For the little things, the big stuff, the warmth, and the nurturing.
I feel very lucky to have witnessed my little one becoming not so little in your charge, and we will always look back on this chapter of his life with the warmest of memories.