A Season of Separation

26 Oct A Season of Separation

Blog by Colleen Brown, Education Coordinator 2s & 3s

A child’s first school experience is one of the most important learning opportunities of his or her life. These early years of a child’s education form the precious building blocks for a life-long love of learning.  However, the separation process may also be a time saddled with mixed emotions for the child, family, and caregiver.

As we settle into the new school year, I have had the pleasure of sharing countless moments with parents and caregivers as they make their way through separation with their little ones. Whether I am catching a mother’s passing smile of relief that her two-year-old has happily transitioned into the classroom that morning, or offering encouragement that the tears from a challenging morning will soon pass, each moment is cherished as we build a community together.

My fifteen years of teaching experience, leadership, and ongoing professional development have taken me from a private preschool environment on the Upper West Side to coursework in the town of Reggio Emilia, Italy, and the beautiful mountain town of Boulder, Colorado; finally leading me back to my alma mater as an adjunct professor in the Education Graduate School program at Hunter College and to Montclare.

I began my career in early childhood education as a full-time nanny for a one-year-old on the Upper West Side. As her caregiver, I was with her when she transitioned into her toddler classroom at a private school in the neighborhood. She was a child who showed strong independence and leadership skills one day, and the next would suddenly need reassurance and TLC. I stood back and watched in awe as the classroom teachers thoughtfully embraced each child individually, meeting them “where they were” and somehow always knew exactly what children and their caregivers needed that particular day. Sometimes, a word of encouragement, or perhaps a shoulder to cry on for the nostalgic parent coming to terms with how fast babies grow! Some children and parents just need a little time and space to feel at ease with these new grown-ups who play such an important role in their child’s young life.

A short couple of years later, thanks to the recommendation of this little girl’s family, I was hired to teach in the very same classroom where my charge had started her educational life. Talk about full circle moments! I embraced the opportunity and was grateful for my perspective on separation, as I had just been on the other side of it. Still, many years later, I continue to build on that experience and share it with both our parents and teaching staff.

A gentle separation process allows children, parents and teachers to form a secure bond and relationship that supports a child’s ability to learn and explore. At Montclare, our teachers encourage children to feel comfortable in new situations as they discover the school around them. For our 2s, the teacher’s priority is to provide a warm, fun and nurturing environment.  As confidence grows, children are also learning socialization and school readiness skills; forging friendships, becoming familiar with classroom routines, and navigating the halls as they visit different spaces in our school including the gym and library.

Developmentally, a two-year-old is learning to trust and build emotional security with all the adults in their lives. This is one reason we recommend that, once your child has separated, caregivers and parents always say goodbye (never sneak away!) emphasizing that you will be back. This is of vital importance in establishing trust with your child. It is equally important to understand that separation varies from child to child and can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks.

We also encourage parents and caregivers to be attentive and supportive listeners when it comes to children’s feelings about going school. At this early age, children are acquiring the tools to name their emotions and this is a fertile opportunity to support your child in using words to express feelings and build mindfulness.

As a decade and a half have passed since separating from that sweet little girl in her very first classroom, I am proud to share that she is conquering the world of high school and currently spending a semester at an advanced placement wilderness school in the Rockies. I believe that her courage and independence are, in some way, a result of the foundation that was created during her earliest years of education.

Enjoy every minute of your preschooler’s journey, as it does go so quickly. We are here to support you every step of the way!

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Colleen Brown has happily been collaborating with children for over 20 years. She joined Montclare after teaching for over a decade at Stephen Wise Free Synagogue ECC on the Upper West Side. With a M.S. in Early Childhood Education from Hunter College and a B.A. in Theater and Speech from Wagner College she studied early childhood education in Reggio Emilia, Italy; Boulder, Colorado; and the Cyert Center at Carnegie Melon University. Currently, Colleen is an adjunct professor in the Education Department at Hunter College.

Colleen adds: “Passionate about the New York City arts community, I am on the Junior Board at New York City Center. I am a proud volunteer at Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang. When not teaching or volunteering, I can be found singing with The Collegiate Chorale at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center.”