She was a Chickadee and a Nuthatch before she became a Goldfinch. Our chickadee didn’t cling to us on that first day, but instead excitedly moved from activity to activity, noticing everything. It was all so carefully placed, just within reach of her exploring fingers and mind. In this thoughtful environment, she grew beautifully through her three years at Learning Circle.
When looking for preschools for our first, we searched high and low. I can remember doing the math and realizing we probably spent more time visiting, researching, and discussing schools than she would spend at school the first semester of her 2 day, 8:30-11:45 schedule. We visited a couple Montessori schools and I really liked them. I loved the idea of independent and individual discovery. Our girl is self-motivated, creative, and happy to discover her days away here at home. What drew us to Learning Circle, in the end, was its ability to celebrate the individual, allow our daughter to self-discover, but then teach her how to be a friend: contribute to a community. We want her to know that she is a small part of something bigger, to sit in a circle, wait her turn, respect others. As an (at that point) only child, the greatest gift we felt we could give Austin was to recognize others if not before, at least along with, herself. And as first time parents, we wanted to learn, discover, and grow with her.
There was the time she came home retelling the story about her unwillingness to help clean up the blocks. Oh, how my momma heart hurt. Was she unkind? Did she disrespect the teacher? What was the consequence for going against the grain? I drafted an email to Katrina, my first as a mother reaching out to a teacher. (I had so often been on the other side of that email.) I worried about how I sounded…too defensive? Not defensive enough? In what Katrina could have responded to in a couple quick sentences, she took time and effort to really explain what had happened, the details of how the scene played out, and how our Austin responded to a situation not as a future juvenile delinquent, but exactly as she should at the ripe old age of 2.9. She was in the right place. For the next two years Austin would visit that Chickadee room weekly to get a hug from Stacey or check on the littler children.
I remember feeling so reluctant to sign her up for the 5 day Nuthatch program. Oh, how I agonized over all that time she’d spend away from OUR nest. But as is Austin’s way, the child never looked back. There were new friends to make, these extraordinary teachers to fall in love with. She thrived. And we could feel that Gerry and Elaine knew and loved our girl too. At our first conference with Gerry, after we discussed all the things she could and couldn’t yet do, Gerry said, “You know Austin comes into a room and she’s just…” Gerry spread her arms out wide, “TA-DA!” My heart tightened when I realized her teachers saw and celebrated in her the things that make her who she is.
Our only child became a big sister of twins, moved to a new house, dealt with a momma on bed rest, got glasses and an eye patch, and grew beautifully stronger through it all with the help of her Learning Circle family. She’s a feeler, like her momma, and the Goldfinch year brought some growing pains. I can hear Barbara and Anne in her voice. “Momma, I’m going to ask you a question and I want you to think about it. Really think about it.” And she really thinks (and talks!) about so many things. She’s learned how to deal with conflict, have hurt feelings, forgive and grow, and let it go.
Right now my almost 6 year old is running around in the yard in her leotard. She has a leopard print eye patch on her left eye while a rhythmic gymnastics ribbon twirls overhead in the sunlight. Her mouth is moving, but I can’t imagine what she’s explaining to herself. She’s been out there for a half an hour, exploring and discovering, muddy and smiling. She’s carefully documented the fairy house she built with her dad, and will soon come in to tell me about the word plan she’d like to make for going back out again after dinner. So much of her days and ways come from what she’s learned during her three years at Learning Circle. And though we’re all off to new adventures, I feel so lucky that she gets to take all that good stuff with her.