Part 8 in a series of essays
I was once an assistant teacher at a school district preschool. Although I was, by that point, a veteran with almost 20 years experience working with children, it was my first experience in a program that required parent participation. During my first weeks in the classroom, parent participation was incredible. I remarked to the lead teacher how impressed I was by the level of parent participation. She chuckled and revealed that they were simply checking out the man teacher that had been hired to make sure he was okay.
There were days when I wasn’t the only man in the classroom. One of the parents that participated on a regular basis was a mountain of a man. He was the father of one of the “princessy” girls. When he volunteered, he understood that at some point, he would be required to sit on a tiny chair in the dramatic play area with his daughter. Those were some of the most powerful teachable moments in the classroom. Boys, girls, teachers and parents could see this man, this father, engaged in nurturing play with his daughter. Girls received a message of how they should expect a man to treat them. Boys got a message about what it meant to be a man. And we teachers – we got the message that fathers care, that they participate, and that they matter.
Sometimes our messages to parents provide us with an opportunity to re-connect with what childhood truly means – and we become the beneficiary of the teachable moment. Following is a story a parent and friend shared with me:
“Sunday afternoon the kids were running around outside… Nico, Nathan, and our 9-year-old neighbor. They were playing “ninja” and my neighbor figured out how to jump from his yard over to ours. Once he made it over, I saw Nathan try to attempt to do it too. He kept looking to see if I was looking. I was looking but without him knowing. They kept trying. I saw my neighbor doing it again to demonstrate his footing to Nathan. After much trying, Nathan finally got over. Mind you I was dying as I watched. Trying so hard not to run over and stop his exploration. It was an awesome sight to see. My first instincts are to keep him from getting hurt but at the same time I don’t want to be that over-bearing mother. I want him to genuinely play… use sticks as guns and swords… to use his imagination” (Judy Laureano, 2013, in an e-mail to the author).