Getting Into a New Routine

Today was the first day of the second day of school, and ROUTINES are what’s on my mind. I felt like we spent the entire first week in the Oak classroom (half-time, 2–4 year olds) just trying to work out how to get everyone to the bathroom in a single morning, or how to get everyone outside and back in, or how to make sure everyone cleans up their lunch. We had big plans for what content our curriculum was going to cover in the first few weeks—community! family! taking care of yourself and others!—but we’re realizing that routines are going to be the name of the game for awhile yet.

This shouldn’t have been a surprise; every year starts out like this, especially in the youngest classroom, where many children are learning for the first time what it means to no longer be the center of attention, and to have to adjust themselves to others’ needs and expectations in a new way. But our curriculum eyes were bigger than our curriculum stomachs, and we’re changing our plans to respond to the needs of the children.

We’re spending this week on handwashing. Yep, handwashing. It seemed like the routine that was causing the biggest traffic jams last week, so this week we’re doing a puppet show about how to wash hands at morning meeting, and taking kids on “field trips” to the bathroom to practice washing their hands. Already today at lunch time things seemed to go smoother in the bathroom, so we know we’re on the right track.

It may seem a little silly to be planning curriculum about how to wash hands, or at least like it’s a shame we have to spend time on something so seemingly unimportant. In actuality, though, handwashing curriculum hits many of the things we most value as a school.

  1. At CCS, our three classroom rules are Take care of yourself; Take care of others; and Take care of your space. Knowing how to wash hands is really about all three of those, as we keep ourselves clean, avoid spreading germs, and learn how to keep the bathroom mess-free while we do it. And we talk in those terms to the children: “We’re going to wash hands before snack. That’s how we take care of our bodies.”
  2. More broadly, routines are how children feel safe and confident at school. As they learn where to keep their water bottles and what the clean-up song sounds like, they’re learning what to expect at school and how they’re expected to behave. That knowledge makes all children feel comfortable, and therefore more prepared to learn. Only when the group gets the routines down pat can they turn their energies to more “important” things.
  3. A handwashing curriculum builds community. We watch the puppet show and laugh together; we stand next to each other at the sink; we remind each other of the routines and expectations. Shared experiences and shared knowledge make people feel closer to each other. The small differences between at-home handwashing routines and at-school handwashing routines gives children a sense of “This is how we do things here”—emphasis on the WE.

So even though this wasn’t the way we had planned to spend Week 2, we’re feeling pretty good about how it’s going.

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