I thought, “What if this is it? … What if THIS moment is what they remember about our precious year together?”Rachel Daigre
Rachel Daigre, PreK-4 Lead Teacher & Early Childhood Curriculum Coach
“What if this is it?” I asked myself. I was poised before thirty-six Pre-K students, several of their family members, and a few of my St. James colleagues. The Parlor smelled of beignets, crawfish, and fried alligator. The children had just finished singing our state song, “You Are My Sunshine,” as our student teacher accompanied us on her violin. We had listened as our most Cajun teacher read the story Petite Rouge Riding Hood. I say poised, but on each hand I was wearing enormous red plastic crawfish claws, purchased from the children’s section of a bookstore in New Orleans. I thought fleetingly about how my friends had bought jewelry and art. I was preparing to give directions for our much-anticipated crawfish races – the culminating celebration of a month-long study of Louisiana. As I looked over my giddy, wide-eyed students and raised my ridiculous claws, I thought, “What if this is it? … What if THIS moment is what they remember about our precious year together?”
When I think back to my own experience in preschool, I have only two specific memories. I recall exploring the dump truck, the cherry picker, and the Twinkie truck among others in our school parking lot on Truck Day. And I remember being scared for a brief moment when I was trapped in a spring-like climbing tunnel. That’s it! And yet, I’ve dedicated my entire career to inspiring learning in young children who might look back one day with only two memories of our time together. Cognitive scientists tell us that episodic memories are forming in four-year-olds, even as they may fade. The young brain is undergoing important developmental changes that will eventually improve the ability to bind, store, and recall events.
Still, one year in the life of a four-year-old is a tremendously significant honor to me. I am joining them on a journey for a quarter of their young lives! Developmentally, they are beginning to become independent, but Pre-Kindergarteners still possess much warmth and a natural sense of wonder and curiosity. Each day, I combine what I know about how children develop socially, emotionally, physically, and cognitively with what I know about the individual children in my care. Coming to know their specific interests and abilities is one of my greatest joys. I delight in learning my students’ middle names, nicknames, pets, travels, dreams, and anecdotal details like who fishes with Pops or whose uncles drink whiskey. My creative challenge is to provide learning opportunities – books, songs, games, experiments, and center materials – that meet both the needs and the interests of my students. I am truly passionate about integrating standards for early literacy and numeracy into inquiry and play-based learning that is meaningful and fun. As I plan each week and each day with intention, I think, “What if this is it?” Will they remember our walk to the Mississippi River and the chance to roll down the levee hill? Or the time we taped pine straw, sticks, and toy bricks to three recycle bins to reenact The Three Little Pigs? Or the time that I brought a Mason jar full of tadpoles that turned out to be salamanders? Will they remember singing/spelling “L-O-U-I-S-I-A-N-A” to the tune of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”?
Even as I strive to design a robust curriculum, I take care to leave spaces. I make space and time to build relationships and to play with and learn from my students as they are constructing their own knowledge. While I have few episodic memories of my personal preschool years, I certainly remember the way that Mrs. Kirby made me feel – valued and loved. “What if this is it?” I ask. Will my students remember the time I screamed maniacally as they made it across the monkey bars for the first time? Or the time that I pushed the bathroom door they feared they couldn’t open? Or the book we made together in the writing center after the death of a great-grandmother, entitled Special Things about Ta? Will they remember the impromptu wedding of Q to U in the block center?
“What if this is it?” I thought to myself as the crawfish races were about to begin. What memories might be sustained? What neural connections will be made? What foundations are being secured for future learning? Then I raised my crawfished hands and shouted, “Laissez les bons temps rouler!”