The Power of Everyday Moments:
Making Every Moment Matter in Early Childhood Classrooms
Adults admire their environment: They remember it and think about it—but a child absorbs it. The things he sees are not just remembered, they form a part of his soul. He incarnates in himself all in the world about him that his eyes see and his ears hear. (Maria Montessori)
There are times when I have the extremely good fortune to be asked to pick up my grandchild from preschool. Once buckled up in the car, our conversations go much like this:
How was your day?
What did you do?
Who did you play with?
What did you play?
What did you like best?
Finally, completely out of patience with my barrage of questions, Sierra says (with much indignation): “Grandma—it was just an ordinary and regular day”.
The beauty of life is captured in everyday moments.
Now, I know for a fact that her day was a far cry from being ordinary because I could see the mud on the bottom of her boots, grass stains on her jeans, and a bag of autumn leaves and sticks on the back seat of the car that she had gathered. To a child who attends a nature preschool and spends the majority of her time outside trampling and playing in the woods, I guess that particular day could seem pretty ordinary to her. Looking back on the conversation, however, I would wager a new guess: The time Sierra spent exploring and playing in the woods are moments that have actually shaped and defined the borders of her childhood. What I, as a grandmother, need to remember is this: Her regular and ordinary day at nature preschool was a succession of moments. And, the beauty of her life—and all our lives—is captured in these everyday moments.
It is often said that life is a series of seconds, minutes, hours, weeks, years, and centuries. It is also said that true happiness in life occurs in those very special moments—the moment you fell in love, the second your child was born, the moment your hand touched the diploma, or the split-second moment it took to open the door of your first home. Although these moments will always be remembered as special and cannot be denied, there is also value in an ordinary day—like Sierra’s regular day.
Early childhood classrooms are filled with everyday ordinary moments, such as coming into the classroom in the morning or leaving at the end of the day; washing hands and eating lunch; going outside and coming back in; saying goodbye to mommy in the morning and hello to grandpa in the afternoon; taking learning materials off the shelf and playing with them, cleaning up, and putting the materials back where they belong; and, gathering on the cozy rug for conversations, songs, and stories. It is indeed within the context of these ordinary moments that young children begin to make sense of their world. It is also in these small moments of time when children experience the cumulative effect of repeated rituals and routines, which have a lasting impression. It is these everyday moments that will endure for a lifetime and, therefore, important for early childhood practitioners to capture in a child’s day and discover how to transform these everyday moments into extraordinary.
Live in the Moment
Children live in the moment, in the here-and-now. They are more interested in what is right beneath their feet than what is across the street. They are not too interested in the future because small children do not have the capacity to grasp the abstract concept of time. They are interested in this very second, this very moment. Adults, on the other hand, may struggle to live in the moment and find it equally challenging to savor the everyday, regular, and repetitious events in our lives. In order for children to have more than ordinary and regular moments in the day, it is important for adults to not only recognize but provide environments which promote and relish the power of everyday moments. To get started, try these ideas.
Curiosity Table: A Moment of Invitation
Place a small table near the entryway to the classroom. Position the table so it is easily visible from the door and children have a clear view of its contents. The Curiosity Table is an invitation to come in . . . an invitation to actively engage . . . an invitation to discover. The goal of the Curiosity Table is to provide a moment of invitation—to provoke children’s interest, pique curiosity about the interesting objects placed there, and ignite their minds and bodies so they experience a moment of invitation into the classroom.
The Curiosity Table serves as an invitation to come in and explore.
The Curiosity Table works best when objects are highly provocative, incredibly interesting, and uniquely novel. That all sounds very complex and time consuming, so how do you do all that? Here’s some tips to get you started on your own Curiosity Table.
- Aesthetically Pleasing Display.Collect, arrange, and display materials in meaningful and purposeful ways. Do not burden the table with clutter; rather, select a few items to purposely position on the table. Artfully display the selected items by using easels, interesting containers, and trays.
- Authentic & Unique Objects.Intentionally select objects for the curiosity table that are unique—objects that would delight and spark children’s curiosities. Seek out authentic objects rather than plastic. Find novel-to-the eye objects. An old fashion metal door handle or knob found at a neighborhood estate sale is incredibly interesting for children to explore and manipulate. Or, how about just some plain ole’ everyday door handles and hinges? While it is true that most young children have noticed door handles and hinges in their everyday lives, seeing the objects not attached to a door is uniquely different. It might begin a whole new exploration on doors, handles, knobs, and hinges.
- Mother Earth’s Bits & Pieces.Young children are innately curious about the natural world. Use the riches of Mother Earth to provide interesting objects for the Curiosity Table. Natural objects are delightfully interesting, amazingly open-ended, and wonderful to touch and manipulate. And, the number of natural objects you can easily collect for children’s explorations is infinite. Just walk outside . . . and see what you can find!
If you do not have a suitable table or enough space, try using a Curiosity Basket. A medium-sized basket with low sides works best because children can easily view its contents. To give the Curiosity Basket importance, place it on a small rug. Woven or braided rugs are more visually interesting so they are a good option. Also, wooden placemats or thick table runners work great. To avoid slippage, add a sticky mat under the placemat, table runner, or rug.
Intentionally select unique items that will spark children's interest.
Soft Cozy Couch: A Moment to Pause
Too often the early childhood classroom’s atmosphere is emotionally unstable. Many classrooms are fast-paced, frenetic, and sometimes boisterous. The emotional environment, which refers to the whole mood or atmosphere of a classroom, is certainly not calm. While it may be impossible to create a totally relaxing environment, it is quite possible to provide moments for both children and adults to pause.
Warm and inviting welcome areas give opportunities to pause. These comfy and soft areas are especially effective when positioned near the classroom doorway and can be used as an invitation to come in. They also send the signal that families are valued and children are appreciated by acknowledging the importance of the transition from home to school. Setting out children’s portfolios, family photos, and displays where children can see current topics and interests in the classroom provide meaningful connections for talking and sharing ideas with their friends and family.
Cozy, homelike areas provide an welcoming transition from home to school.
Welcome & Goodbye Rituals: A Moment to Connect
One of the common everyday moments in a classroom is welcoming children into the classroom and saying goodbye at the end of the day. These are perfect times to capture the power of a moment. Take a look at the following ideas for powerful moments of connection.
- Welcome Stones. Each child (or family) has a unique stone to call their own. As each child enters the classroom, they find their unique family stone and place it in a basket. Placing the stone in the basket symbolizes the transfer from the family to the classroom. When leaving for the day, the family stone is removed from the basket to symbolize the moment of departure.
- Walking Sticks. Use walking sticks as a powerful moment to connect at the beginning of the day. When children arrive in the classroom, they find their own personally designed walking stick and move it to a designated spot. The transferring of the walking stick is a ritual denoting the moment of their important entry, the transition from their outside world to the classroom, and their presence in the classroom.
- Family Blocks. For a weekend project, send home white cardboard block (available at craft stores) for children and parents to create as a family. Do not give them specific directions on what to do with the blocks. Just tell them to have fun, use their own creativity, and create a block representative of their family. Once the blocks have been returned, use them as a strategy for denoting the moment a child arrives into the classroom. When a child comes into the classroom, she can find her family’s block and put it in a special place to celebrate her moment of arrival.
Walking sticks and welcome stones provide a daily ritual denoting the arrival of a child.
It is important to make every moment matter in the early childhood classroom. Take a moment to look for how to transform everyday moments into extraordinary moments for young children . . . and watch the magic begin.
the amazing potential and
of today’s small everyday
With over 50 years of experience in the early care and education field Dr. Duncan has extensive experience in working with young children and parents, teaching at the university level (doctorate students and early childhood students), designing and writing professional development programs for practitioners, and authoring several teacher resource books. She is the proud grandma of Sierra Elizabeth, an energetic and vivacious first grader!
You can find Sandra Duncan's newest books here: Rethinking the Classroom Landscape: Creating Environments that Connect Young Children, Families, and Communities and Bringing the Outside In