As I was taking my younger daughter to her daycare this morning, making sure I don’t forget her favorite stuffed toy — Piglet, of Winnie the Pooh fame — a sequence of pictures flashed in front of my eyes:
The warmth of our home, causing my brain to recall familiar smells from the baking in the oven and family voices mixing in a symphony of noise my ears could enjoy forever, making me forgetting all about the milk my daughters spilled this morning on the floor as they were chasing around the dining table.
The inviting playfulness of my daughter’s daycare, with the chaos of toys, crayons, drawings providing happy food to my soul, despite the fact I am late for a meeting and getting to the exit door seems to take forever as me and a handful of other parents try to avoid stepping on the little fingers that seem to be in almost every square foot of the floor.
The messy desk at work is full of family photos, yellowing old paper with some uplifting message I must have printed ages ago that says I should chin up to challenges , my daughters’ pile of drawings and crafts mixed up with project plans and architecture diagrams — all bringing comfort to my emotional brain, even though I feel stressed as I can’t find that report I printed for the customer meeting in 5 minutes.
Suddenly, my older daughter’s tidy classroom full of organized boxes, lined up tables and chairs, sorted books, etc. looked strangely uncomfortable. As I was puzzling why I didn’t noticed that 30 minutes ago as I was dropping her off first before driving to the daycare, I realized I couldn’t see any object in the classroom that had emotional value for me or that I could connect with any of the other three pictures that popped in my brain just before.
Most schools seem to expect from the kids to forget about their family and their friends outside school and focus on the teacher and the learning. It is an environment where rules abound and chaos is not tolerated. It is an environment where bringing your favorite blanket or stuffy is not allowed or condemned as uncool and even damaging the kids’ independence!
Why is it that we encourage people at work, especially in a high-stress environment where they’re expected to work flexible and long hours, to set-up a little family shrine on their desk, so they can be more efficient and cope with the stress? Why is it that when kids start in daycare or preschool they’re encouraged to bring familiar objects and toys from home so they don’t feel scared and separated? Unfortunately, once they enter school, we put a sign at the classroom door that says “Family ends here!”
I think schools should stop alienating the family by imposing walls that clearly mark the territory for the kids and should start seeing themselves as extensions to the family environment. They should invite the familiarity of the kids’ homes to enter the classroom. They should open the doors for a horde of toys, books, family items and other things that are of emotional value to the kids to bring some chaos to the floor.
The parents — including me and my wife!! — are guilty of preventing the familiar to spill into the classroom too. We worry over lost items. We fear the emotional reaction of our kids if their favorite toy gets broken. We bought into the idea that independence from the family is an absolutely good thing for the social development of our kids!
I won’t pretend that I know that extending the family into the schools will improve the learning of the kids. But I do know that the learning is not the only thing we worry about our kids and when schools deprive the family from entering the classroom, they lock us out of our kids’ lives for most of their walking hours. This has an impact on the kids’ ability to bring the school environment to enter the home, in return!
We have to accept that we’re all highly emotional and our feelings play a great role in our lives. By separating some of the environments in which we find ourselves during the day, we compartmentalize our emotions and don’t let them influence our behavior in different contexts, nor inspire us to connect the learning seamlessly as we move from one environment to another!
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and stuff my daughter’s backpack with her favorite toys and books as well as refresh my memory how to do embroidery so I can stitch our family portrait into her backpack for her to carry always with her!