I used to make fun of people who thought preschool graduation was a thing. I mean, what’s the big deal? The era of being babysat while playing all day long is over. And that deserves a ceremony?
Well, after having just watched my 5-year-old walk across a makeshift stage to be handed a rolled up piece of blank paper, I get it now. Graduation from high school or college is all about the student. But much like the party for a child’s first birthday, the preschool graduation pays tribute to the team effort required over the past several years. Graduating from preschool isn’t just something superfluous and pointless to put on Facebook as just another school party. It marks the end of oh, so much. It’s the culmination of the most basic of all learning, the foundation of lessons we all take for granted.
It is through the preschool years that our children learn how to write their own names and how to recognize those of their classmates, whose cubbies are adjacent to their own. They learn ABCs and the sounds those letters make. They learn how to count. To 10. To 20. To 100. They learn songs their parents don’t even know. They learn the seasons, the months, the days of the week, and the concept of time. They learn to enjoy playing outdoors, to socialize with their peers away from a hovering adult, how to sit quietly and make a craft, then how to proudly display them as decor.
And then of course the laundry list of social norms that are unconsciously taught and just as unconsciously learned, such as what is appropriate behavior, how to take turns at the water fountain or how to use a toilet without mommy or daddy there to help. They learn not just HOW to share, but that they HAVE to share to survive. They learn how to talk in front of listening peers through Show and Tell and other exercises. They learn how to respect authority, that actions have consequences, and that it’s often times the second offender that gets caught. They learn that not every blunder they make or tear they cry will be wiped away by their mom or dad.
They absorb and exude many other opinions that are trivial to grown ups but monumental to them. And let us not forget the emotional aspect of spending so much time with their classroom tribe. They make their first friends. True friends. Not ones based on proximity or age, or the fact that their moms hang out. They bond with some more than others, despite the “everyone is our friend” approach. They remove and add the label of “best friend” as if it’s a light switch to turn on and off. They get their feelings hurt and then they are soothed by their teacher, who just a year before, they didn’t even know, but who now is helping to raise them.
They learn how to love people not in their family. People who don’t look like them. They earn their first nicknames that aren’t based on a silly terms of endearment, and they learn what it feels like to be left out, or what it means to feel jealous and the seeds for teaching the dangers of bullying are planted. They start caring about what their buddies at school are doing when they aren’t together and begin showing signs of compassion and empathy; they start doing nice things for their friends, without any sort of prodding, such as giving a Hot Wheels car from their own collection to a friend at school or letting a buddy go first on the tricycles.
All of these hours spent with their school family are not just a blip on their life’s radar to be lost, ignored or forgotten. Whether a working parent is forced to send their child to daycare-turned-preschool, or whether a stay-at-home parent realizes the value of getting a child ready for kindergarten through a routine-driven classroom, those hours of each day that the child is away from his or her parents cannot be just gone. They happened. Those were hours filled with all of the above and more.
And personally speaking, those hours, experiences and people have helped shape my son, Weston, into who he is today — just as much as my husband and I have. It DOES take a village, after all. That teamwork between the preschool staff, the teachers and we parents — that all comes to a head at preschool graduation. It’s an event that says, “We did it.” We got our kids to this point, and though it might seem silly to some, it’s far from it from those of us with ours hearts running around outside of our bodies.
All the laughter, tantrums, failures, triumphs, tears and cuddles that took place at school, those moments of my child’s life that I myself never got to witness, all of the physical, emotional and mental lessons taken on and conquered, they ALL deserve to be acknowledged.
No, scratch that. They deserve to be celebrated, at least a little bit.
Because as we, the parents of preschool graduates, turn the last page of a beautiful, wordless picture book, we know what is next. So before we, in just a few months, crack the spine on a thick chapter book full of paragraphs and fewer images, before the preschool friendships that are still in their infancy fade away, before our no-longer-babies take their new shoes and nervous bellies up the sidewalk toward their elementary school in the fall, before we lose even more time with them to the world away from our embrace, we want a cap and gown. We want silly songs and a fake diploma. We want a cookie.
Because a preschool graduation not only symbolizes the end of all of the above; it signifies the beginning of even more.
About the author: Darbi G. Hebrank, an Omaha, Neb., transplant, always has been drawn to telling stories, though the format of those stories has changed over time. She earned a degree in magazine journalism from Mizzou; her post-college career was in PR and marketing. But it is story-telling through photographs that is her passion. Today she has a successful baby, family and wedding photography business. When she’s not documenting the lives of others, she is trying to make the most of her own, alongside her supportive husband, Neil, their 5-year-old , Weston, and their two cats, Kramer and Moxie, both of whom are almost out of their nine lives.