Early in the morning, the stairwell down to Room 200 is quiet. Four days a week I descend those stairs, as I have for 24 years, taking in the peaceful moments leading up to the energetic and noisy hours to come. If I’m the first to arrive, I unlock the door, flip on the lights, open cabinets and start setting up for the very youngest of Glenn School’s students, aptly named Caterpillars and Butterflies. If my co-teachers, Dana and Laura have arrived before me, things are already underway and we chat in that comfortable and easy way of friends who have worked together for years and look forward to what the day brings. For me, this time with Dana and Laura is the first blessing of the morning.
The children arrive at 9:00. To a less practiced eye, our mornings spent with as many as nine small friends, age one year or younger, might appear to be “just babysitting” – an ordinary gathering in an ordinary space. We are, in fact, totally immersed in our own universe. Exploration is happening at a remarkable pace as our little pioneers investigate everything around them with all their senses. To us teachers, the atmosphere is practically crackling with the explosive formation of synapses. We facilitate and witness the literal expansion of each child’s universe on a small scale and sparks fly; it’s a physical, cognitive, emotional and spiritual experience. To slip into this stimulating world of newly wired and burgeoning personalities is the next blessing of the morning.
It can appear chaotic if you stick your head in the door of Room 200, especially early in the school year. And, truthfully, it is chaotic at times. Some little ones arrive in our class in late August barely able to sit up, not mobile at all and unaware that “separation anxiety” exists … yet. Some children plunge into this unknown experience with confidence, approaching the new adults in their lives with interest and the shelves of toys with eagerness. More commonly, uncertainty and anxiety at being separated from beloved parent or caregiver is a raw feeling that must be expressed – loudly by the children, more subtly by parents. Each child – and each parent – settles into the routine on their own terms, in their own time. Trust builds, anxiety recedes.
Our days together in Room 200 are rigorous – full of physical activity, emotional ups and downs, strong affection, happy humor, social blossoming and fun. We talk and sing to our small friends throughout the morning, knowing that language will eventually ignite for them. In the meantime, the real communication comes in the language of smiling, crying, whimpering, screeching, laughing, babbling, grabbing, pushing, touching, hugging, patting, tasting, eating and giving in to sleep. We do our best to intuit, read faces and body language, to discern if someone is hungry, tired, or desperately missing mom and dad. Laura, Dana and I often exchange looks across the action, acknowledging our complete wonder at the daily growth and changes in these smallest of people and the blessing of being connected to them at this time in their young lives.
Our class is a thoughtfully designed introduction to the wider world and our goal for each child centers on trust. Being able to enter Room 200, separate happily from parents, and become engaged in exploration and play, demonstrates a child’s trust of us and of the classroom as a safe and fun place to be. Sometimes it’s the first experience away from mom and dad and we’re careful to respect this and meet each family where they are in this process. To this end, Laura, Dana and I offer comfort, encouragement and reassurance for the journey. We shepherd our little friends along a new road and on the way we are blessed to witness small miracles on a regular basis. Tiny hands and feet; strong lungs and loud cries; beautiful, soulful eyes; little pearls of teeth popping through gums; radiant smiles; small cores strengthening to sit up, turn over, crawl; strong legs, balance and confidence working together to walk; expressive babbling evolving into recognizable words…really, the list is endless. And to help a child move from that initial anxiety, which is often profound, to real delight at arriving ready to play, tossing a wave back to mom or dad, is what we call among ourselves “the miracle of the Baby Room.”
Not only do we marvel at each individual child developing, we also witness the class coming together to form another entity entirely: community. Watching each small “me” coalesce into an “us” is fascinating and well, a blessing. Separate and unconnected at the beginning of the year, the children begin to recognize and reach for each other, learning and saying their friends’ names. Curious exploration of other evolves into “I know you” and “I’m happy to be with you.” As the year progresses, the class often moves together as a small herd, roving around the room as one. Laura, Dana and I see social connections form and friendships begin. And to watch a child identify a beloved “blankie” of another, pick it up and deliver it to that friend across the room with the clear purpose of comforting that friend is deeply touching. We are no longer just aware of each other; we are connected to each other.
At the end of each day after the children are gone, Dana, Laura and I restore order to the room, replacing the toys on the shelves, wiping down surfaces and reflecting on our day. When we’ve had a last look around and turn off the lights, in the dark and quiet room we can still see the sparks fly and feel the reverberations of the sacred in the ordinary space of Room 200.
Nancy has taught at The Glenn School for over two decades and is a long-time member of Glenn Church. As the new school year approaches and new faces come to call the baby room home, we are thankful to Nancy for her insightful and creative reflection on her work with Glenn School children.