Venturing into a New Year

The beginning of school marks a child’s first steps into community. With these steps come new friendships, new independence, and a burgeoning sense of belonging to something bigger than oneself.

Each year, children widen their circle of connections a little more, and as they do they become both more secure as individuals and more engaged with the world beyond self and family. It is exciting to witness this transformation, but it can also feel like a loss. We are eager to see our children embrace the world, while at the same time a little nervous–perhaps even a little sad–as they no longer need to be embraced quite so tightly by us.

At the heart of this tension is the transition from parenting infants, whose many immediate needs render us constantly necessary, to parenting kids, who still need us, but at a gradually increasing distance. As our children move out into the world, even this very small world of preschool, we must begin to shift from following closely behind, catching their every stumble, to a more stationary role — the safe, secure base to return to after an adventure.

Two, three, and four year olds are fascinated by stories of brief ventures away from home and back again. Harold’s imagination creates orchards, oceans, and cities to explore, before bringing him back to his own cozy bed; Max’s anger drives him “in and out of weeks and almost over a year,” but he eventually returns home to a hot dinner and “someone who loves him best of all”; Kitten, who mistakes the moon for a bowl of milk and chases it all the way up a tree and into a pond, finally returns to her own porch and a real bowl of milk “just waiting for her.” These stories are allegories of the transition out of infancy and into childhood. Young children become adventurers, learning to build their own worlds and communities, but only as we allow them to take steps away from us–to explore, sometimes to fall, while we plant ourselves firmly, always ready to love them “best of all” upon their return.

Each morning, when children walk into school, they are entering an environment that nurtures these first adventures. As they take their first steps away from home and into community, they learn to relish exploration, to not only make a friend but be a friend, to rebound from disappointments and celebrate successes, to follow as well as lead, to be patient as well as bold. And at the end of the day, they return home to rest in the security of family, to be embraced by you and renew their adventurous spirit for the next day.

Wishing you a new year filled with adventures and love.

Shana Tova!

Alicia Stoller is the Director of JCP’s Early Childhood Center.