by Sally-Ann Barker
Potter’s House Preschool
I watch the children coming into preschool in the morning and wonder how their last few hours have been and how it might shape their day. The ones who run in without saying goodbye because they have already planned in their head what they are going to be doing and are desperate to execute that. The ones who come in with their hats over their eyes pretending to be invisible because this has become their routine to make us laugh and set the tone for the morning. The ones who cling to their parent that little while longer and then the ones who need peeling away so we can start our day.
Because of Covid, our drop offs are slightly different. Parents used to come into the building and were welcome to stick around for a little while if necessary. It instilled a sense of unity with our staff and parents – that we all have the same goals for the children. Now that parents aren’t allowed in, we receive the children outside and take them in ourselves. Granted, it meant they settled more quickly in September but I can’t help feeling a little sad at how quick the handover feels now. Parents are conscious that it’s cold and they may be holding up the queue of other parents who may need to rush off to work so they quickly hand the child over and off they go. We had a child a few years ago who was incredibly shy and after a few weeks of tears at drop off, his mum set a little routine for them. She’d bring him in and then say “Kiss, cuddle, high five” and he would do all three things and then go in happily. That little bit of comfort she gave with a clear and precise routine worked for him and it always stuck in my mind, what a lovely way to say goodbye.
The reason I wonder about their time in the morning before they come to us is because it completely determines how their day will be. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, there are five levels of ‘needs’ that dictate a persons behaviour. These are physiological needs, safety needs, love and belonging needs, esteem needs and self-actualisation needs. The phrase “just one of those days” tends to be accompanied by a dismissive eye roll, a shrug off that it’s not a big deal or out of a person’s control – just one of those days. But, what if it didn’t need to be “just one of those days” ? Picture a day you’ve had where nothing seems to be going right. You overslept, you burnt the toast, you were late to work – anything really. One thing going badly in the morning can shape your day into “just one of those days” and that’s exactly how it is for children. The Hierarchy of Needs adapted for children is set out like a pyramid, with the more critical needs taking up the larger part of the pyramid at the bottom working their way up to the peak.
Children need to have had a decent nights sleep, be fed and watered and been to the toilet. In short, they need to feel physically comfortable. This is especially important in preschoolers because they may not be able to process those needs and be equipped to tend them themselves, so that responsibility falls solely on the parent/carer.
Fairly self-explanatory but basically children are entitled to feel safe and secure. Both physically and emotionally their safety needs should always be met.
Love and belonging needs
Children need affection, it sits beautifully alongside their emotional needs, they need comfort and physical touch. This enables children to feel secure and connected.
This one can be tricky when your children are small – how do we help boost their self-esteem? How do we help them to be confident? Children find confidence in our trust. Allowing children the space, time and opportunity to be independent means they no longer feel impotent or vulnerable. This is so easily done by allowing that extra time for them to get themselves dressed and trusting them to do it, pouring their own milk into their cereal, putting on their own shoes and remembering their coat. We use positive affirmations at preschool every morning as part of our registration – “I am good. I am kind. I am smart.” We use these alongside promoting their independence as much as possible in their self-care and play.
These are a child’s creative needs, problem solving and stimulation, something that is provided in spades at any setting they will attend so not something parents really need to put pressure on themselves to do in the morning before the school run.
These needs not being met form a barrier for children’s development. They can become unmotivated, aimless, disconnected and disengaged. For a child to have a positive and successful day, they need to be healthy in body and mind. You have to attend to the basic needs of a child before you can expect them to reach their full potential and, after all, what do we all really want as parents?
That kiss, cuddle, high five at the door means more than we may initially realise.