What I learned in preschool: how to play pretend

I’ve been doing it all along without even realizing it.

I’ve been watching my kiddos for about a month (holy cow, didn’t think I’d last that long) and its fascinating watching them pick up connector toys, stick them together, and proclaim loudly, “its a bullet train!!” and take off pushing the thing across the floor, dodging kids and tables in their mad dash. It’s astounding and so genuinely pure and simple I can’t help but smile. That is, until the bullet train and its driver accidentally run over my feet/legs/fingers…

As for me, I’m learning how to pretend to be comfortable in this new job and country where so many things are still different and new. That age old concept of “fake it til you make it”, never exactly resonated with me until now. Each and every teacher at this school that’s been here longer than myself, has shared the same words of wisdom in one way or another;

“yeah, we have no idea what we’re doing either, we’re just all making it up as we go along… I still get names mixed up, can’t remember how to spell basic English words, and one day I’ll finally learn what the past perfect tense actually is. The only thing [we] know more of than you do, is where they keep the toys and supplies, and maybe a few more games and dances. But really you just have to trust your instincts and keep the kids happy. The bigger fool you make of yourself will get the most laughter so don’t be afraid to get silly.”

Have I been overestimating the senior teachers at this school all along? I don’t think so. They know more than they think and they’ve been fantastic resources as I pick their brain each chance I get. But for them to be so candid about pretending at teaching, that struck me. Playing pretend extends far beyond the realm of ‘childhood’ games and imagination. Sometimes it’s the secret to finding your way at work, or to trick yourself into thinking you know what you’re doing. Who knew?

Sure, they are preschoolers and their math lessons don’t involve math (yet), so the lessons aren’t exactly hard to teach, its all in the delivery – “in a fun and exciting manner”. That’s where the pretending comes into play; how can I get a bunch of munchkins exciting about this subject? The answer is, I need to get excited about it first so I can show them how cool/fun/etc the lesson is going to be. Enter: pretending to be amazed and thrilled about concepts such as magnets, gravity, and shadows. I know (basically) how they work, or at least that they are things that exist, but the munchkins don’t. In order for their short attention spans to focus, the topic at hand needs to be fun and enthralling enough to capture their attention. And let me tell you, it’s hard work pretending to be that happy and enthusiastic all day.

I don’t remember my preschool days, so I don’t know if that’s how I was manipulated into participating in activities way back when, but the logic holds. If the teacher isn’t having fun or engaged in the subject matter, how are the students supposed to have fun while learning it either? I know how to match cards, and walk with a plastic egg on a spoon, and how to draw my letters (most days), but those little squirts don’t. This is all new to them and I forget how scary it can be when you’re first introduced to a new concept. Holding a grown up pencil for the first time is challenging, some of those guys don’t even know if they are lefties or righties yet! (Note to self: yes the irony is not lost on me… the parallels between the preschoolers discovering new things and me discovering new things was on purpose. Mostly).

Some students create intricate towers or abstract piles with blocks while others prefer to build houses in the tried and true four walls and a roof method. Both are correct. Both groups are pretending that their pile of blocks are a house. The experienced teachers and me, a total newbie, both think we’re pretending at the same job. It’s both comforting and humbling I think. They keep reminding me the only thing that you really get better at is learning to let go of being self conscious while teaching. If you mess something up, you mess something up. Keep going.

6 thoughts on “What I learned in preschool: how to play pretend

  1. Jim

    The whole world is making it up! There is no such thing as an “expert”! There are people that have been doing something (teachers that have taught for a while) longer than others. (you, new to teaching) The longer you do something the more exposure you have to something, the easier it becomes because you can draw off past experience.

    To me one of the most amazing parts of teaching really young kids is being able to see them learn something for the first time! It’s like you can see the light bulb go off above their heads! We forget as we get older that we learn every day but we have done it for so long we don’t realize we learned something new! But when a young child learns something for the first time and you get to see it, that is one of lives miracles as far as I am concerned! (You know that, having a seed that I planted grow, being able to talk to my TV remote, all of lives miracles!)


  2. madrej8

    omgosh! Get a baking tray, pour some rice or sand or goo or shaving cream on it, and have them write letters in the mess!!!!!


  3. amclarke500

    Hi Allie, I really admire what you are doing! This is AM one of your Mom’s dear friend.Sent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone


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