Separations in September

Separating from their parents can be a time of sadness for many preschoolers particularly as September approaches bringing new classes and new schools. Here's an example of how a young child was encouraged to manage her own emotions and transform them through art.

A three-year-old was feeling very sad after her mother left for work. She had been encouraged to dictate her feelings and thoughts, creating a letter for her mother. I wrote down her exact words, encouraging her to say more by asking how she was feeling or what she wanted to happen.

"Dear Mom,
I did not want you to leave. I want you to come back. I am very, very, very sad. Come back and read me one more book."

While this form of expression would work on many sad mornings, today it was having no effect. I asked her if she would like to draw a heart. She paused to think about my suggestion and told me, “I can't draw all of it."

"Draw the part you can and I'll help you with the rest," I gently encouraged. She very carefully drew one hump of the heart and then the other. I placed my finger where the heart's point would need to be. She drew the lines from the humps of the heart down to my finger. She smiled and placed a dot in the center of the completed heart.

"That's me," she said. With her permission, I wrote her name next to the dot.

"Would you like to draw lines to you from all the people who love you," I asked?

She nodded. Together we drew many lines. As we connected the lines to the dot inside the heart, she named who was sending her the love. With each love line her smile grew wider. Soon she began to laugh.

"It looks like a sun," she said, beaming like a miniature one.

For the next day's goodbye, she told me that she wanted to draw another heart. She initiated the drawing on her own, beginning with the top of the heart. I noticed a gap between the two humps which gave the drawing a different but not quite familiar shape. As she independently completed the drawing, she began to smile and then said something I didn't understand.

"It's a shoe, Elyse," she laughed, holding up her own to be sure I understood. "It's a love shoe."

Then she began to draw the lines that connected her love to her family.

Two days later, when another preschooler experienced a sad goodbye, Claire sat down at the little art table and began to draw a heart for her friend. She asked for my help in attaching it to a string and hanging it from her friend's cubby.

Teacher implementation and integration into your classrooms:

As teachers, we know full well how separating from their parents can be deeply felt in young children, particularly at the start of a new year. We're also aware of how one child's upset can have a domino effect on even those who parted company amicably from their own parents.

Classroom teachers who do not have the luxury of very small groups to work with can call upon the built-in resourcefulness all preschool teachers possess to find an effective solution. What has worked well in the classrooms of our school is having the children dictate letters for their parents. We encourage children to use their words to express how they are feeling, who they are missing and what they would like to happen.

  • Set up a table for the distressed children. One teacher will facilitate. (Our classroom has a 1:7 ratio, so the other teachers are available for the other children and activities).
  • Place a sheet of paper in front of each child.
  • Have available their favorite drawing materials: crayons, markers, oil pastels, etc.
  • Let the children know that each child will be heard, ask them to draw how they are feeling, or a picture of their parent or loved one, or of themselves. This will begin their expression of and transformation of their feelings. It will also keep them occupied while you transcribe each child's words.
  • The children often like to fold their letters, putting them into an envelope or cubby or directly into their pockets for when their parents pick them up.
Next month: The power of drawing an old fashioned manual clock, connecting the children to their parents’ picks up time.