Around my third-grade year in school, my family started taking an annual summer vacation to Orlando Beach, Florida from our home in southern Indiana. The station wagon that faithfully carried us there was one that had the bench seat that looked out the back window, so my brother, sister, and I sat and watched the road where we HAD been and waved at truckers behind us. As the sun dropped past the horizon, that seat was flattened to make a bed where three little kids curled up in their sleeping bags to watch the stars out that same back window.
It was a 14-hour drive, and my dad’s idea of getting there was to make it in 14 hours. That meant very few breaks along the way. The only time we stopped was when the station wagon needed fuel. Bathroom visits had to be made in the time it took for him to put the nozzle in the car and make his payment. Everyone was expected to be back in the car when he returned with the receipt. Any food we wanted was in the cooler or grocery sack brought from home.
Dad was on a mission! Point A was home and Point B was the hotel in Florida. Nothing in between those points was of interest to him. The pedal was to the metal, his eyes were straight forward, and his ears were listening to Mom as she navigated. Nothing deterred Dad from obtaining his goal. He had a plan and no one was going to mess with it. It wasn’t until after I got married that I realized there are really interesting historical markers along the roads that make a great little place to stop and stretch, or that you can actually pull off at an exit … just to get a drink!
Unfortunately, many of us are like my dad when it comes to teaching preschoolers. We’ve read our lesson plan, gathered all the supplies, and maybe even cut out a bunch of pieces of construction paper that the kids will put together in 2 minutes flat and then not really look like what we intended. We’ve put effort into preparing and nothing is going to get in our way … not even these little ones whose main interest lies in exploring their world.
Preschoolers notoriously go off on little side trips. To a preschooler a simple walk down the hall is successful if it includes talking about the five pictures of kids from the church that hang on the wall, wondering where a door leads, and just wanting to stop and rest halfway. But that’s not what we have in mind. The clock is ticking and we’ve got to get through all these awesome activities.
Part of being an effective preschool teacher is respecting that these little people haven’t experienced everything that you take for granted and are still learning about the simplest of things. We’ve got to give them the time to process all the random and somewhat insignificant things that we look right past. Give them time to explore this world that God brought them into.
Slow down! This isn’t about you. It’s about them. It’s not about getting from Point A to Point B. It’s about everything that comes between Point A and Point B. It’s not about getting to every activity in the lesson plan. It’s about pointing the preschoolers in your care to Jesus in every single thing you do and say. So, take a deep breath. Don’t get frantic when time seems to be slipping away and you’ve not gotten as far as you had planned in your lesson.
When it’s a pretty day and you take your preschoolers out to sit under a tree to hear the story of Zacchaeus, be prepared to give it a lot more time than it actually takes to tell the story. First of all, the walk from the classroom to the storytelling tree holds lots of magical moments. There are rocks to be picked up, bugs to watch, things to point out that are across the street, in the air, or around the corner of the building. If it bothers you to not get through the lesson plan, then just plan extra “discovery” time into that plan that happens in transit. Put transition time on your to-do list/lesson plan, then it won’t catch you off guard or feel like it’s robbing you. During this slowed down discovery time, you can even initiate some of the discovery and join right in with the excitement over new things.
If you’re reading a new book—one that the kids have not yet seen or heard—make sure everyone can see the pictures. Stop … Don’t even think about turning that page! Pause and ask questions. “Can you find the …?” “Where do you think the man is going?” “Why is the man sitting in the tree?” Give them time to point out what they notice in the pictures. Their picture smart multiple intelligence is in high gear right now. You and I, old and young—we all think in pictures, but preschoolers are building a full vocabulary by what they experience visually. When all the questions have been answered, then, and only then, ask the kids, “Is it time to turn the page?” to which you’ll get a resounding “Yes!” They won’t be constantly trying to turn the page back because they weren’t finished yet.
I’m one of those people who’s always in high gear and very goal-oriented. I’m not real fond of down time. That’s why I have to be extra conscious when I’m leading preschoolers to get out of my own head and get into theirs. I’m an awful lot like my dad and could walk right past all the discoveries that are still left to be made. I think that’s why I love working with preschoolers so much. They slow me down. They point out the things I’ve missed. They bother to ask the questions I’ve not even considered asking.
One of my favorite children’s movies is Finding Nemo. And, although I have too many “favorite” parts of that movie to list, one character I love is the whale. I love that whale because of the way he talks … slowly … very, very slowly. So, say it along with me in “whale talk”, S-L-O-W D-O-W-N! Commit to embracing this new mindset when you welcome your preschoolers this next week. Think to yourself, “I’m going to point them to Jesus … in everything we do … on a preschooler’s time schedule … no matter how long it takes!”