Saturday, March 23, 2013

Don't Call Them Babies

One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone refers to my preschool class as "The Baby Room," "The Baby Class," or simply just "The Babies."

I teach the youngest group of children in my preschool, the one-year-old class. Since we are quickly approaching the end of the school year, the majority of my students are already two. A few of them only missed the age cutoff by a few weeks, which means the two-year-old classes contain some children who are only a few weeks older than some of my kids. But even if all of my children were still one-year-olds, they would not be babies.

I understand that my kids aren't able to do the things the older classes are able to do. I definitely get that they have limitations, but I also don't underestimate them. They aren't babies.

The problem is, a lot of people don't really understand the difference between infants and toddlers. One-year-olds are in an ambiguous stage of life, as it's hard to tell when the baby stage ends and the toddler stage begins. The easiest way to tell? Does the child walk (toddle)? Voila! Most likely, the child is a toddler. Sometimes you do have toddlers that aren't quite toddling yet, and sometimes you get babies that can toddle, but who aren't yet on the same developmental level as a toddler. Kids learn to walk at different ages. Some are early walkers, and some, like me, wait until they're nearly a year and a half before being brave enough to try the toddling thing. But the toddler age starts at one, not two, as some people seem to think.

And there are other things that toddlers do that distinguish them from babies. Toddlers eat more solid foods. Aside from choking hazards, toddlers can eat just about anything a grown up can eat. They have most of their baby teeth. They aren't living just on milk and baby food.

Older one-year-olds (sometimes younger ones, too, especially if they have older ones to emulate) are just beginning to grasp the idea that there are other people who matter in the universe (besides self). They enjoy playing alongside and even WITH other children. They start to develop compassion and kindness, as well as a sense of independence and (in a lot of cases) stubbornness. They aren't babies anymore. Their personalities are starting to form.

They are also learning like CRAZY. They are learning new vocabulary and grammar moment by moment. They are putting the code of language together by using two or more words in a sentence to communicate. They are building on previous knowledge and actually beginning to use basic logic. They're labeling everything in their world, including each other  :-). The main reason one-year-olds are my favorites is because they are SO fascinated by everything. The whole world is new and wondrous to them, and they are old enough start exploring. I like seeing everything through their eyes. I like experiencing the excitement they sense at encountering our amazing world.

There aren't babies at preschool because, while babies can definitely learn, babies don't belong in a preschool learning environment. We have lessons. We have crafts. We have music. We have structure. And while I strive to make everything on their level, I also have pretty clear expectations for my students. They aren't babies. They know how I expect them to behave at school, and they know there are consequences if they fail to meet (or raise, which does happen a lot) my expectations. Babies can't do that. But, then, my class isn't for babies.

Now, I can completely understand if someone is trying to help their older child understand why he or she needs to be more gentle or gracious with younger children. Children can understand "baby" better than "toddler" or "younger child." By all means, if you need to call my kids "babies" to help an older child understand that my kids are younger, go for it. I also understand that people have pet names for their kids, or that they have trouble realizing their baby is growing up. I don't have problems with that. Call your own kid "baby" all you want, as long as you're letting him or her move forward developmentally. In fact, sometimes I call older kids, "babe," but not in any way where I'm demeaning them or their abilities.

But don't let me catch you calling my preschool class "The Babies." They are a smart, confident group of kiddos with distinct (and adorable) personalities. I have a lot of love AND respect for the students in my preschool class, and I'm just as blessed as can be for the privilege of being their teacher.

So please, don't call them babies!

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