As an early childhood teacher, I love the month of February. Readers, if you want to be loved, and to have heartfelt joy and happiness, spend time with young children. Right now, with it being mid-winter — overcast with rain and cold weather — the month of February brightens up this season with love.
Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, which comes next Tuesday, is one of my favorite days to celebrate in the classroom with beautiful lace doilies, heart stickers, drawings and cut-out hearts. Make cards, as well as decorate heart-shaped bags and boxes so children can play Valentine post office in the classroom.
As I reflect back over the many years of teaching, the favorite lesson my young students seem to enjoy is talking about love and how we can help others to live out love. Young children share how their actions have shown love in helping others. Children learn so much when they are young. These are such valuable teaching years. We early childhood teachers see this on a daily basis. We can mold the heart of a young child by our words and actions.
Right after my husband suddenly passed away in 2017, as a teacher, I was the recipient of love when some of my no-adult, first- and second-grade students reached out to me. This is not bragging at all, but it was such a humble blessing in my life during such a time of need.
After my son returned to Grand Rapids, Michigan, I was comforted by my students who are now policemen serving on the city police force. They would come and check on me each evening. They would check out my backyard with flashlights, walk around my home and make rounds each evening. One night, a coil in my stove oven caught on fire. Immediately, the fire department made their way to my home. Again, I was met by one of my students who was now an adult and able to put out the fire. I remembered the many community field trips we had taken to the police station and fire departments as first- and second-grade classes and the time the community helpers had invested in these young students in teaching them about safety.
Some of my first- and second-grade students who are now grown helped me with making emergency repairs and maintaining my yard with mowing and landscaping.
When I knew that God was guiding me to move back to Opelika, Alabama, my hometown, I knew I would need to sell my home. I did not even know how to begin the process. Again, God blessed me with another one of my first-grade students, Terra Reeves, and her mother Laura Reeves, who served as my real estate team. This mother-daughter team went the extra mile and spent hours praying and loving this first-grade teacher by gently putting me back on my feet as we sold my home.
After returning to Opelika, I was so excited to be able to teach in the summer program at Trinity United Methodist Church, where I was met in the classroom by another student, Mrs. Kaponia Holloway, whom I had taught at Carver Primary School back in the 1980s. She is now grown up — a mother and grandmother, as well as a teacher for older preschoolers. She and I have shared classroom ideas in teaching young children.
As a teacher, I have seen how love notes from parents, grandparents and other family members encourage young children. I have seen how little boys and girls cling on to a simple yellow Post-it note from Mom or Dad all day long. It brings joy and security from home to school.
Be sure to let your children know that you unconditionally love them for “who they are” and how God made them with their personalities and gifts. As we all know, praise and compliments go a long way in encouraging young hearts. Thank them in a note for how they have helped you — by cleaning their rooms, helping to set the table for a meal, cleaning up after a meal, feeding and taking care of their pets or picking up paper off the floor — to express special feelings to your child that they are so quick to emotionally respond to. It expresses gratitude for what they do. We all want to feel appreciated.
Notes of encouragement to our children are so important. If a child is facing challenges for the week, such as tests or projects, let them know that you are praying and pulling for them to do well.
Also, social relationships with friends can be a challenge for young children. Our world is so busy with computers, cell phones and other technology. In the world of young child, spending TIME with them with no distractions spells LOVE. Raising young children is a challenge. We all make mistakes. A verbal “Will you forgive me?” is good, but a written “Will you forgive me?” note is one that a child will absolutely learn from.
As we embark on this month of February, “love month,” why not place surprise notes in unexpected places? As a teacher, I have loved to stick encouragement notes under desktops, chairs, student folders, etc. As a parent, you can slip notes in lunch boxes and backpacks, or put Post-it notes on bathroom mirrors, a child’s pillow, by their breakfast plate and even in their clothes or shoes.
Also, let me gently remind readers that Sunday is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday which we teach and celebrate in the early childhood classroom. Our lessons focus on what children learn from Honest Abe, and that is telling the truth. Again, teaching a young child to know and understand what “telling the truth” means involves sitting down and teaching young children the importance of being honest.
My heartfelt desire and hope with this column is for parents, grandparents, adults and teachers to take time to model love in front of young children. Those of us who teach young children are blessed with hugs and hearing the words “I love you” even after our young students are grown.
I want to wish all my students, present and past, a “Happy Valentine’s Day!” Thank you for your expressions of love in actions, cards, email wishes and Facebook outreaches. 1 Corinthians 13:13: “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is LOVE!”