Educators in the Rainbow Room at Hilltop welcome a new group of children ages 2-3 each September, some who are moving from a younger Hilltop classroom or have had siblings at Hilltop, and some whose families are new to Hilltop. As one of those educators, I try my best to observe and listen carefully to what matters most to these new children. This can be both an exciting and challenging time, and one of our first goals is to build strong and trusting relationships with them. We may be seen as authority figures who have all the answers, but as educators we are far more than that. We intentionally validate children, see their worth, and scaffold their development. We are partners and co-learners and researchers with children, listening to what matters most to them, as we build our community together. One of my first goals is to build that community on a foundation of trust and participation.
How? Together, we create rituals.
Throughout my first year at Hilltop, I have been noticing how rituals develop in classrooms. Rituals may seem like just a series of repeated acts, but according to former Hilltop educator Ann Pelo, in her book The Goodness of Rain: Developing an Ecological Identity in Young Children (2013), a ritual “lifts us out of the mundane and habitual, and calls our attention to what matters to us.”
What matters to us… Have you ever thought about what truly matters to the children in your classroom, or to your own child?
There are many ways that rituals shape and contribute to our learning environment. When we start the school year together with our pedagogical values in mind, the children and teachers naturally form routines that mold our own classroom culture within the Hilltop community. We navigate our way through the year with daily evolving practices that help us create relationships with one another, as well as a shared sense of stability and familiarity. As Ann Pelo goes on to say, “ritual hones our attention and lively awareness, and calls forward who we want to be and how we want to live in a place. Ritual celebrates the places that matter to us, and the creatures who reside there, and the experiences that we have there. Ritual links us to other people who live with us in a place.”
Having rituals among teachers and children and families creates a powerful way to celebrate who we are as a group, while also allowing us to honor our individuality. Children feel accepted, validated, and known when they are each a part of something meaningful. Ritual allows children to take ownership of their tasks, giving them the opportunity to be independent, creative, and to exercise their critical thinking skills. Children develop a sense that what they do as a group is something of their own, that is special to them as a part of community. Throughout the year, rituals also help children to develop mindfulness of others. For example, every day when we signal that we have five more minutes until clean-up time, we use a “Five-Minute Frog” instrument that each child gets a turn to play. The children let us know who’s turn it is when they look at the chart we’ve posted, and get excited when they notice their turn is coming soon. Importantly, even through challenging transitions, rituals further children’s learning and growth in many developmental areas, without a structured lesson; thus, learning is both impactful and enjoyable!
For example, in the Rainbow Room, “potty jobs” can sometimes be a difficult moment in the day. Some children go immediately when asked, others need 2-5 more minutes to play, and others might just ignore the invitation, leading to a potential power struggle. In a new space, without family surrounding them, it’s understandable that there is often resistance. For us as educators, one way we make this transition easier is noting our universal love of ice cream! We may ask, “Do you want to be scooped up like ice cream or do you want to fly like an airplane?” If the answer is ice cream, they choose their flavor, and I scoop them up by their legs and back and pretend to eat them up (while delivering to the bathroom or changing table)! This allows us to connect, gives the child some choice, and brings fun to a not-so-fun job.
Not only do children benefit from rituals, but their families and educators can also experience rituals in a positive way. Teachers feel a sense of pride in their work with children, a “feel-good” effect if you will, helping us value the work we do with children as worthwhile and important. Children and teachers feel a sense of belonging and connection, as we build stronger relationships with one another through daily rituals. At the same time, we create meaningful stories to share and engage with families to build stronger relationships with them. Creating rituals is a powerful tool, not only to engage our children, but also to foster a culture of belonging within our learning community.
Rituals are effective vessels that bind children and teachers together in strong and positive ways. Because educators are not the children’s primary caregivers, we want to put in extra effort to earn their trust and respect, and it certainly goes both ways. There is something compelling about the way rituals help us connect with children. Although we come from different cultures and ways of life, we begin to identify with one another in our own unique ways. That is the beauty of how rituals live in our classroom.
Some examples of rituals in our Rainbow Classoom (Class of 2017-2018):
- Five-minute Frog, Clean-up Chimes (taking turns with a chart that has children’s pictures and names on it)
- Listening for our Bluetooth speaker to connect in the morning before breakfast (*beep beep*- “We’re connected!” said India)
- listening to music during breakfast and lunch, picking a genre together
- going on “kitchen runs”(getting breakfast, supplies, milk, or snacks)
- eating together (teachers and children sharing lunch)
- making conversation about our stay-at-home days
- reading books during meals
- listening for “clues” about their identities as we line-up to go outside
- having familiar spots that we stop and gather on our way outside
- gathering as a whole group each day for a “morning meeting” to share songs and stories
- being scooped up like ice cream or flown like an airplane on the way to do a “potty job”
- checking in with others when we’ve hurt or upset them in someway
Jill Cruz is an educator with 2- to 3-year-olds at Hilltop Children’s Center, where she has worked since 2017.