Today we are celebrating our school’s birthday, with pajamas and cupcakes, and a great deal of cheer and gratitude. I overheard one child ask his teacher through his mask, as he admired our mini cupcakes, individually served with gloves: “How can a school have a birthday?” She thoughtfully responded, “Well, one day some people came together and decided, ‘we should make a school!’ and the day the school was made is the school’s ‘birthday,’ so every year we celebrate TFC!”
Our school may look a little different this year, but we are more grateful and celebratory than ever. We are celebrating the fact that eight years ago a group of like-minded, ambitious, caring educators and parents got together and decided to form a special place where their children could explore through play and partner with others to investigate and learn. We are celebrating that our school has grown and thrived, welcoming more and more devoted members to our community. We are celebrating that our school is strong enough and has many people who care enough to support us that we can weather any storm, including a global pandemic. We are celebrating the teachers who trudge to work in the snow, don masks and smocks and gloves, sanitize toys and monitor coughs, because they care so much about our school and their students and want to provide them with a safe and nurturing place, this year even more than others. We are celebrating the families who drop off at the door without even entering the classroom, and trust us with their children knowing that the social emotional benefits they are experiencing daily in our care are worth the stress of extra safety precautions and less direct in person contact with school staff. And of course, we celebrate the children—who eagerly run (or crawl) into school each day, happy to see their friends and teachers and explore whatever new provocations are available. They feel safe and comfortable here; it is a familiar, warm, exciting place that they know is just for them. And that is surely something to celebrate this winter.
As we head into our winter break, I look forward to time with my own family and I hope that the rest of our community will as well. I am happy for our teachers to have some well-deserved down time, and for our students to refuel with cuddles at home. I recognize personally how hard it is to forgo some familiar holiday experiences and traditions as we work to determine the safest ways to celebrate this year. We at TFC have been able to remain open until now amidst this pandemic because of the collaboration and dedication of every member of our community. And so I hope that everyone will keep our community in mind as you spend time with family over the winter break, and use as much caution as possible to stay safe and healthy. Let’s work together and do everything we can to keep our school open for our students in the New Year, so they can continue to run (and crawl) each day into a special, engaging environment that is here just for them.
Celebrating the light in TFC during these darker winter days.
Thanksgiving is going to look a lot different for most of us this year. That will be hard, but it will also be okay. This is the language we use with children; it is okay to feel frustrated about this, and it is okay to feel a sense of loss as we mourn the things we are missing out on. But ultimately this is a time to come together in whatever way we can, to make new traditions with family and friends, and reflect on what makes us feel thankful. And many of us do in fact have a lot to be thankful for this year.
I, for one, am extremely thankful that our school is open, that our children are thriving, that I can come to work in a safe and comfortable environment every day, and that my son is able to be with other children and teachers who love and care for him. I do not for one second take any of this for granted this year. I am thankful for my family, for my health, for my job, and for my TFC community. I am thankful that we are able to continue to provide a physically and emotionally safe place for children every day.
Recently, the students in our infant class have started discovering each other in the room, sharing (and fighting over) toys, noticing each other’s big feelings—both happy and sad, and coming together for meals. These are all such important steps in fostering early community togetherness and empathy. And it makes me think about how even with these youngest members of our community we are instilling values of giving thanks and making connections.
“Giving thanks” is one way I have always approached the Thanksgiving holiday with young children. There are different ways to do this, depending on the children’s ages. But there is value in this practice for all ages, from babies to adults, especially right now. I might read The Thankful Book, by Todd Parr with some children and ask them what kinds of things they are thankful for. The beauty of it is that they always have an answer, from the material answer of a favorite toy to the more heartwarming answer of a family member they love. Both responses are valid! In this time, we can all take a lesson from our children who are regularly and endlessly grateful for many things in their daily lives, both big and small.
And while this year may look different for many of us, we can still be grateful and we can create new traditions. Traditions are important, but Thanksgiving is one of many times when we can get stuck in the past, thinking things need to be a certain way to be meaningful. But finding value in the new and different is actually a gift. My husband was skeptical a couple years ago, when my father decided to use a non-traditional Mediterranean turkey recipe for our Thanksgiving bird. But now it’s become its own new tradition for the holiday… this year as we were discussing plans for our much smaller Thanksgiving meal, he said, “I hope we are making the Mediterranean turkey again this year…” And we certainly are! Here is that delicious recipe, if you are so inclined to try a non-traditional turkey yourself this year!
Holding onto some traditions, both new and old, amidst a time of uncertainty, is so valuable. But there may be some new traditions this year that hold more value than expected—a chance to try a different dish with a smaller group of people and different palates; a game of trivia with extended family over zoom. We will all be working together to keep ourselves and our families safe this holiday season, and in doing so we also keep our school community safe. I implore you to think of our community as you celebrate and spend time with your loved ones, and keep us in mind as you follow familiar traditions and create new ones safely.
Additionally, we should keep in mind that while there is great value in giving thanks, the Thanksgiving holiday is actually a particularly complex and contentious one. It is important that while teaching about the values of togetherness, appreciating community, and sharing food and traditions, we also teach our children about the true history of our country and the diverse experiences of others. Ways to start this process with the very young is often through windows into different cultural experiences, through books and food, introducing them to Native American imagery and experiences, or food shared by different cultures at holidays and family gatherings. So perhaps you will start a new tradition for your own family time this Thanksgiving of reading a new book that reflects these values? A recommended reading list can be found below:
The Thankful Book by Todd Parr
Fry Bread by Juana Martinez-Neal
Duck for Turkey Day by Jacqueline Jules
Gracias the Thanksgiving Turkey by Joy Cowley
We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell
Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message by Chief Jake Swamp
Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora
Rivka’s First Thanksgiving by Elsa Okon Rael
Feast for 10 by Cathryn Falwell
I don’t want to think about, talk about, or write about the election. Yet somehow all I can think about, talk about, and write about these days is the election. As much as being with children and observing their wonder-filled ways of exploring their environment and living in the moment provides a refreshing escape, the current political climate seems to constantly permeate everything that surrounds us these days.
I found myself incredibly frustrated after the first presidential debate a few weeks ago, when countless people and publications compared adult politicians to arguing toddlers. We should not use such accusations as insults, for toddlers are so much better than that. Sure, children are loud, they shout and they try to be heard and get their point across. That is related to what we are doing in school—working on our collaboration and communication skills. But our children are empathetic, they are thoughtful, they are kind and curious, they can be wrapped up in their own needs at times but they are not inherently uncaring or malicious. They want to share their ideas and be heard, but they also want to listen to others and connect with those around them.
Earlier this week, one of our oldest students asked a classmate what he was building with the blue blocks, listened to his description of his “machine,” then picked up some blocks of his own and said, “I’m going to build next to you!” Another day, I witnessed one of our youngest non-verbal students in the infant class eagerly grab a toy that another baby was using, then stare with curiosity as her face changed and she began to cry, the toy falling from his hand (granted, this was probably due to surprise at her reaction more so than any desire to return the toy. But it was clear he was exercising his empathy skills, and starting to figure out a connection between his own actions and the feelings of others.)
Let’s give our children the credit they deserve—they are thoughtful, capable, compassionate humans. And they are learning how to function as collaborative members of a collective democratic society, in the microcosm of our classrooms. They are learning to listen and respond, to share their ideas, and to register and react to the feelings and needs of others.
Two years ago, we were all enthralled with the confirmation hearings of a different Supreme Court justice than the most recent court addition, and certain accusations that arose. At that time, I wrote an article about gender and respect in early childhood, which I still feel, unfortunately but inevitably, is extremely relevant today. You can find that here:
So, when politicians and other adults act in selfish or socially inappropriate ways, let’s not compare them to children. For children are, in fact, some of the most collaborative and hopeful citizens we have. And this election and current political climate does include and affect them; some of the most important issues at stake, such as community health and safety, social justice, and taking care of the earth and climate, are topics that our children can already relate to and that will inevitably play strong roles in their lives. In fact, our main curriculum this school year is, understandably, about caring for ourselves and others; we are asking the children to think daily about the wellbeing of everyone in our community and the world around us. So even if talking with children offers an escape from the overwhelming stress of this election season, it’s not inappropriate to think about it around them, and to just remind ourselves that we are already helping them find the tools to do good in the world. This starts with asking a friend about their structure, or noticing a peer’s sad face. These are the building blocks for becoming successful members of a collaborative society, and our children are naturally empathetic and quick at learning these necessary skills. Let’s not insult them by comparing them to belligerent politicians. Instead, let’s celebrate them for trying to understand their friends and connect with the world around them.
Recently, near the end of our school day, a teacher-parent and student were leaving school for the day, and came across a small baby bunny by the TFC door. The bunny was huddling against the building, with no grown-up bunny in sight. (It did not seem to have gotten the memo that during COVID times we are not allowed any visitors from outside of our regular community…)
Our team immediately sprang into action—the teacher and child stayed near the bunny making sure it was safe. Another teacher found a basket to put over the bunny to protect it. We started preparing to shuffle the preschool class out of a different door to give the bunny adequate space for comfort. And while I tried to get someone on the phone from an animal rescue facility (which were all frustratingly closed, due to COVID), another teacher who was not on site that day checked in via cell phone and prepared to come in to school to help safely catch and care for the bunny.
While all of this was happening, the bunny rallied itself, escaped from the side of the makeshift cage, and ran away with purpose and direction. We assume it had a plan to reconnect with its family, and we were relieved and wished it well.
I’ve been thinking about this bunny a lot since then, both the bunny herself and our community’s response to her visit (for the purpose of ease of writing, I am arbitrarily assigning the bunny a female pronoun, though we did not in fact confirm her gender). It turns out this bunny wasn’t physically hurt or sick. Perhaps she was tired and needed a rest, or temporarily lost and using our entryway as a safe spot to reset while she got her bearings. But safety is not only about physical wellbeing; it is equally about emotional comfort. Our school was a place where this small bunny could rest and recover however she needed, a place filled with thoughtful, caring individuals ready to offer any support and guidance she wanted to accept while also giving her time and space to independently figure out what she needed. And isn’t this exactly what we wish for all bunnies who come to our doorway?
This year, as we prepared for reopening our school, it seemed harder than ever before to make sure we were consistently providing that emotional comfort and support that is so important for our students. We stressed that amidst the new regulations and safety measures, the constant cleaning and handwashing, we would not let the heart of our community get lost; underneath our masks we would be the same warm, caring educators and make sure our students felt those connections throughout the day. It’s been hard, but now that school has been open for a month, it is clear that this is what is happening. Our students feel both physically and emotionally safe here, just like that bunny did on her visit. They are safe to explore, safe to take risks, safe to express their feelings, safe to take the time and space they need to get their bearings, and safe to do all of this with expert guidance and support tailored to meet their individual and shared needs.
We are the same humans underneath our masks, and despite new routines and, I’ll admit, a bit more cleanliness, our school is the same school I fell in love with when I toured as a director candidate just before the start of the pandemic. I’ll admit, I was touring as a parent then as well, and when I entered the Sequoia classroom I knew that this was a safe and special place I wanted to send my own baby bunny. None of that has changed, even now that we are in the midst of a pandemic.
Earlier this week, I gave a virtual tour to a prospective parent who expressed how impressed she was with the warmness of our school, despite all of the restrictions we are faced with this year. When we are in the midst of it all on a daily basis, it’s sometimes hard to see, but she’s right—our school is still a place of warmth and community connection, the same school I fell in love with last year as an educator and a parent. And that is because it is filled with people who understand what children need and strive to keep them both physically and emotionally safe and healthy all day every day.
Just as TFC was a safe stop for this baby bunny on her journey to adulthood, I hope that is true for each bunny that passes through our doors. I hope that she and all the bunnies find that same warmth, connection, and support, and know that they can always return to us for comfort and safety, no matter the weather, crises, or climate in the world around us.