At the end of a school year, I often joke with the children in my preschool classroom, laughing about how some of them will be going to kindergarten while I stay in preschool. A child once asked me, “When will you be old enough to go to kindergarten?”
Even though I may stay in preschool year after year, the children in my class do not. Classrooms are like revolving doors: they welcome children and families inside, nurture and develop them while they are here, and then release them to the next part of their educational journey. I often think about the children and families who pass through my preschool classroom, wondering, “What happens after the preschool years? What memories do families have of their children’s preschool experiences? And what impact do the relationships we build continue to have on children’s learning and development?”
Opportunities to reconnect with families are rare for me, so I decided to reach out to a few, seeking to learn from their experiences.
Reflections from families on their children’s preschool years:
Emily’s confidence bloomed during her time in preschool, as did ours as parents. Everything she accomplished had a huge impact on me, especially with all the medical setbacks [she experienced] during her first five years of life. I still have most of her preschool art projects. Art has become her favorite hobby, and one of our most talked-about memories is the Family Art Gallery Night. We also talk about the . . .lemonade stand and family picnic. I remember approaching the children’s lemonade stand and Emily greeting us by saying, "Hello, welcome to our picnic. How can I help you today?" She was only 3. I remember it like it was yesterday—my confident little girl. This summer, we plan on opening a lemonade stand in our front yard to help support Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.
Avelynn loved preschool, and so did we. We loved seeing her excited face as she saw her teachers and friends in the hallway or outside of school. Preschool provided her with opportunities to interact with peers of all different backgrounds, cultures, and needs, and helped her build positive friendships. It got her excited about learning at an early age, exposing her to classroom routines, technology, and field trips. She learned to control her behavior and about expected societal norms. We watched her become more independent and confident as she began to understand she had to leave mommy and daddy in the morning, but that she was going to a safe, fun place.
Sam’s preschool classroom was an excellent structured setting for him. It was where he really learned to share, follow instructions, and began the foundation for learning that he now uses in kindergarten. Preschool really helped with his emotional and social development. He matured a lot within the two years he was there. He also learned a lot of independence, such as making his own choices and taking care of himself and others. I have to tell you the most important aspect of Sam's preschool experience by far was having an incredible teacher—really and truly. Having a loving relationship with his teacher and being able to trust and respect another person is huge. Also having a wonderful team of educators working with Sam had a big impact on his overall learning.
My reflections as a teacher:
We know that our work as early childhood educators is important and that what we do matters. Families’ memories of their children’s preschool experiences can give us fresh insight into what we do in the classroom. Having conversations with former students’ family members can help us understand what is important to them and what has a long-term impact on their lives. It can help us think clearly about why we make certain decisions and how we work in the classroom. This can lead to powerful change and professional growth.
Though most of our preschoolers may not personally remember the impact of their preschool experience, it is refreshing to know that families do. And comments like this one from 5-year-old Molly are encouraging: “I miss my preschool so much, it feels like I'm gonna cry.” The preschool years do make a difference.
Jenny Levinson, M.Ed has taught preschool at the Wintonbury Early Childhood Magnet School, located in Bloomfield, CT since the school opened in 2009. She presents at local and national early childhood conferences, including presenting with the Powerful Interaction Team led by Judy Jablon.