“I missed you!” – Returning to the ECC Classroom

By Sarah Holden and Jaylee Deffenderfer, E-T ECC Early Childhood Educators

“I missed you! I missed my friends for so many days. Now I’m at school, and I don’t have to miss you anymore.”

On our first day back from winter break, one of our two-year-old students greeted us with this heartwarming welcome during carpool. With limited visitors allowed in the building during these times, all children are dropped off and picked up through a carpool line outside the building. What could be a simple, even mundane, daily routine has developed into a cherished ritual for the Etzim Class.

During drop-off, each child is greeted with a joyful squeal of their name by the children who have already arrived. As more children arrive, there is a continual dialogue about who they predict will come next, what mode of transportation they will use, and which adult will bring them. At the end of the day, as the class says goodbye, we have noticed that the attention and care the children hold for one another extends to the adults who pick them up. They recognize their friends’ cars and caregivers, greet the adults enthusiastically by name and wave goodbye to their friends. Intuitively, the children demonstrate that a key way to show someone you care is to acknowledge who and what is important to them.

Before the school year began, we wondered how spending their earliest years in a pandemic would impact the children’s social-emotional development. Our students are all between two and four – the ages when children begin to develop critical social-emotional skills such as emotional identification, navigating relationships, and expressing empathy. We reflected on how we adults struggled throughout the pandemic: the effects of isolation battling with new anxieties about socializing. If we found this challenging, what would the experience be for these young children without a lifetime of social learning already under their belts?

Rather than being wary of their new classmates and teachers, the Etzim Class has shown incredible amounts of empathy and attention to the needs of others around them. The children’s desire to express their love and care for one another has become the driving force in our classroom. As relationships deepen and communication skills grow, they are learning how to communicate their preferred forms of giving and receiving affection as well as how to respect one another’s boundaries. How can we show care for a friend when they don’t want to be touched? How do we communicate when someone does something that we don’t like? The children are beginning to identify which of their friends love hugs and which prefer a wave, high five, or in one case, an ear rub! One child prefers to send hugs by hugging his own body and blowing kisses to others.

The Etzim Class’ care for others extends into their dramatic play as they alternate taking on caregiver and doctor roles. We see the children gently care for baby dolls, feeding, bathing, putting them to bed, and even creating face-masks for them to wear to Morning Meeting – a time when the class gathers to greet one another and discuss the concepts we are exploring in class.

Welcoming a doll or favorite animal to Morning Meeting has become another cherished ritual in the Etzim Class. We have begun including the animals in our greeting song, “Willaby Wallaby,” and the children excitedly announce the animals that each of their friends is holding. Even our youngest children show awareness of their friends’ preferences for certain toys and their care for one another by bringing another child a particularly loved toy. During one Morning Meeting, the children pointed out that a child was not present at school that day and wanted to greet that absent child. This began a ritual of identifying children who are absent each day and blowing kisses to send them love.

This past week we’ve been given an opportunity to dive deeper into this concept of caring for others. One family caught a mouse in their home over the weekend and released it outside at Temple before school. “I cared for it,” this child announced proudly as she shared the story of catching, feeding, and then releasing the mouse with her classmates. “It’s going to find its family in the forest,” she added. That day, during one of our weekly nature walks, the children searched for the mouse and wondered where it went to live.

What does it mean to care for another living creature? How can we help provide shelter, food, and love for those in need? We look forward to exploring these essential questions with the Etzim class in the coming months and can’t wait to see what we, as educators, learn from this incredibly caring class of children.