I arrived at school Tuesday knowing my day would be different, but prepared for the outdoor adventure that awaited me. A few weeks earlier, Colleen Shelton, in her most persuasive voice, convinced me that a Preschool trip to The Heidelberg Project and Eastern Market was a far better way to spend my day than any “stinky meeting.” Looking at my calendar and seeing the empty block I of course said yes, and put the commitment out of my mind. Now as the day arrived, I found myself standing next to my car in the parking lot, looking at my calendar, and wondering what a morning off campus would really mean.
As students and parents began to arrive there was incredible excitement in the Hill House classroom. Yes, my preschool friends wanted to see the art and touch all the interesting fruits and vegetables, but when you are 3 and 4 years old there is really nothing more exciting than experiencing a ride on the school bus. I suspect we could have boarded, strapped in, and drove around the parking lot for 20 minutes and the day would have been a huge success!
We talked about busses, trucks, cars and all the different types of transportation we might see on our trip. We shared what we had in our lunchboxes, decided who was awake and who needed a little bit more time to fully talk about the plan for the day. The anticipation was wonderful; seeing this experience through the eyes of a preschooler made me truly appreciate the curiosity and energy our children bring to school each day.
Boarding the bus, the conversation turned to the interesting art we were going to see when we arrived at The Heidelberg Project. It was clear that Colleen and Nicole had spent time talking about the houses we were going to see, the faces painted on the sidewalk, the dots in the street, and of course that interesting home with those odd black plastic disks that one parent described to the children as “record albums.”
Arriving at the Project we exited the bus and began to explore. It’s really hard not to touch plastic toys, stuffed animals, odd looking electric machines, shoes in the fence, old bicycles, and cars buried in the dirt. But, we held out our arms, looked straight ahead, and in our most forceful voices told our hands “Don’t touch the art.”
How many preschoolers do you know who could will their hands to exercise that kind of control? How many preschools from the northern suburbs visit Detroit? How many preschools make the time to study the art of The Heidelberg Project? It was beginning to dawn on me that I couldn’t have picked a better use of my time this morning than exploring the city with my early childhood age friends.
Our next stop was Eastern Market. Greeted by our friend, Roeper alum and new Trustee Fiona Rudy, we made our way through the beautiful selections of autumn fruits and vegetables. Interestingly, along our path we stopped to listen to a musician playing his xylophone for the people gathered in the market. The man stopped, talked with our group, and then one by one he invited our students to play the xylophone in tandem with him. This impromptu music lesson gave our children the chance to explore a new and different view of the arts. Partnering with the gentleman, some students mirrored his motions; others created their own melodies. Patiently he let each child have a turn – he was indeed a natural teacher.
After eating lunch and looking at the pumpkins, corn, and squash, our tired band of travelers boarded the bus with fresh apples in hand and returned to school. Like many of our friends, I was ready for a mid-afternoon nap.
I recalled one of my earliest teaching experiences working as an assistant in a half-day preschool room. I was fresh out of college, 23 years old, and I thought ready for any challenge. What I discovered was how wonderfully intense and totally exhausting early childhood teaching really is. I moved into my full time middle school teaching position the next year with an incredible respect for teachers who dedicate their professional careers to working with preschoolers.
Spending the day with my 3 and 4-year-old friends, I saw an incredible excitement about learning, their deep curiosity about the world around them, and their ability to articulate thoughtful ideas. I watched children who are still working through parallel play use their words to problem solve, I saw parents and teachers facilitate conversations and help our children show respect for one another.
Most importantly, I saw us living our philosophy. We were engaging with the community and going beyond the boundaries of our classroom. We were encouraging young minds to explore their interests and see that they have a place in the larger community.
In truth, I couldn’t have spent my morning doing anything more important!