Innocence, Zeal of Young Children Contagious

With the regularity of clockwork, my week begins with one kindergarten boy welcoming me with a wide smile and open arms. It is actually I who is supposed to be welcoming him – greeting him on a Monday morning in the drop-off lane. I’m not sure which one of us started the wide-armed expectant hug, but it has become part of our routine and he never misses the opportunity to embrace me (or the day ahead).

The amazing thing is that no matter how my morning begins, it is better once I see Andy. What a blessing.

That is the beauty of teaching young children. Their innocence and zest for the day is contagious. Their smiles seem to ask, “What do you have in store for me today, world” It is the power of positive thinking in its most pure form. Unfortunately, parents don’t always reap the same morning benefit. I don’t, but then again I am my child’s alarm clock. I embody the end of a great dream or much-needed sleep, so I can hardly fault her for not leaping to her feet to greet me and start the day.

For years when I taught high school I kept the following quotation by Hiam G. Ginott on my desk, “I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.”

I read it as I would a prayer for my day. It reminded me that every student had something to offer that day if I had the patience and creativity to establish a positive and productive climate in my classroom.

I don’t need the same prayer in the early childhood and elementary world in which I live now. Their enthusiasm for life and curiosity for learning creates the positive climate. It is they who have the tremendous power. Can’t we learn from them? If we embrace the day not with a list of what we must accomplish or where we must be at what time, but with a smile for what the day might offer – looking for a sudden act of kindness, the clear blue sky or a wide-armed hug, we might find ourselves in a better state of mind.

I’ve heard my mom say: “Fake it ’til you make it.” I always thought that a strange bit of advice. It works, I must admit. No matter what I encounter in my “adult” world, a few minutes smiling in the company of young children can change everything.

As spring blooms and our lives with children get even more hectic, I wish for each of us to embrace the pure joy of childhood and to realize the power of a moment spent with a child laughing, playing or simply hugging with wide-open arms.

– Elizabeth Hofreuter-Landini is head of school at Wheeling Country Day. She is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard University Graduate School of Education. She and her husband have two daughters, ages 4 and 8.