"Adults admire their environment: They remember it and think about it—but a
child absorbs it. The things he sees are not just remembered, they form a
part of his soul. He incarnates in himself all in the world about him that
his eyes see and his ears hear." (Maria Montessori)
There are times when I have the extremely good fortune to be asked to pick
up my grandchild from pre-school. Once buckled up in the car, our
conversations go much like this:
Grandma: How was your day? Sierra: Fine.
What did you do? Played.
Who did you play with? My friends.
What did you play? Nothing much.
What did you like best? Everything.
Finally, completely out of patience with my barrage of questions, Sierra
says (with much indignation): “Grandma—it was just an ordinary and regular
Now, I know for a fact that her day was a far cry from being ordinary
because I could see the mud on the bottom of her boots, grass stains on her
jeans, and a bag of autumn leaves and sticks on the back seat of the car
that she had gathered. To a child who attends a nature preschool and spends
the majority of her time outside trampling and playing in the woods, I
guess that particular day could seem pretty ordinary to her. Looking back
on the conversation, however, I would wager a new guess: The time Sierra
spent exploring and playing in the woods are moments that have actually
shaped and defined the borders of her childhood. What I, as a grandmother,
need to remember is this: her regular and ordinary day at nature preschool
was a succession of moments. And, the beauty of her life—and all our
lives—is captured in these everyday moments.
It is often said that life is a series of seconds, minutes, hours, weeks,
years, and centuries. It is also said that true happiness in life occurs in
those very special moments—the moment you fell in love, the second your
child was born, the moment your hand touched the diploma, or the
split-second moment it took to open the door of your first home. Although
these moments will always be remembered as special and cannot be denied,
there is also value in an ordinary day—like Sierra’s regular day.
Early childhood classrooms are filled with everyday ordinary moments, such
as coming into the classroom in the morning or leaving at the end of the
day; washing hands and eating lunch; going outside and coming back in;
saying goodbye to mommy in the morning and hello to grandpa in the
afternoon; taking learning materials off the shelf and playing with them,
cleaning up, and putting the materials back where they belong; and,
gathering on the cozy rug for conversations, songs, and stories. It is
indeed within the context of these ordinary moments that young children
begin to make sense of their world. It is also in these small moments of
time when children experience the cumulative effect of repeated rituals and
routines, which have a lasting impression. It is these everyday moments
that will endure for a lifetime and, therefore, important for early
childhood practitioners to capture in a child’s day and discover how to
transform these everyday moments into extraordinary.
Live in the moment
Children live in the moment, in the here-and-now. They are more interested
in what is right beneath their feet than what is across the street. They
are not too interested in the future because small children do not have the
capacity to grasp the abstract concept of time. They are interested in this
very second, this very moment. Adults, on the other hand, may struggle to
live in the moment and find it equally challenging to savor the everyday,
regular, and repetitious events in our lives. In order for children to have
more than ordinary and regular moments in the day, it is important for
adults to not only recognize but provide environments which promote and
relish the power of everyday moments. To get started, try these ideas.
Curiosity table: A moment of invitation
Place a small table near the entryway to the classroom. Position the table
so it is easily visible from the door and children have a clear view of its
contents. The Curiosity table is an invitation to come in…an invitation to
actively engage…an invitation to discover. The goal of the Curiosity table
is to provide a moment of invitation—to provoke children’s interest, pique
curiosity about the interesting objects placed there, and ignite their
minds and bodies so they experience a moment of invitation into the
The Curiosity table works best when objects are highly provocative,
incredibly interesting, and uniquely novel. That all sounds very complex
and time consuming, so how do you do all that? Here’s some tips to get you
started on your own Curiosity table.
Aesthetically pleasing display.
Collect, arrange, and display materials in meaningful and
purposeful ways. Do not burden the table with clutter; rather,
select a few items to purposely position on the table. Artfully
display the selected items by using easels, interesting containers,
Authentic & unique objects.
Intentionally select objects for the curiosity table that are
unique—objects that would delight and spark children’s curiosities.
Seek out authentic objects rather than plastic. Find novel-to-the
eye objects. An old fashion metal door handle or knob found at a
neighborhood estate sale is incredibly interesting for children to
explore and manipulate. Or, how about just some plain ole’ everyday
door handles and hinges? While it is true that most young children
have noticed door handles and hinges in their everyday lives,
seeing the objects not attached to a door is uniquely different. It
might begin a whole new exploration on doors, handles, knobs, and
Mother Earth’s bits & pieces.
Young children are innately curious about the natural world. Use
the riches of Mother Earth to provide interesting objects for the
Curiosity table. Natural objects are delightfully interesting,
amazingly open-ended, and wonderful to touch and manipulate. And,
the number of natural objects you can easily collect for children’s
explorations is infinite. Just walk outside…and see what you can
If you do not have a suitable table or enough space, try using a
Curiosity basket. A medium-sized basket with low sides works best
because children can easily view its contents. To give the
Curiosity basket importance, place it on a small rug. Woven or
braided rugs are more visually interesting so they are a good
option. Also, wooden placemats or thick table runners work great.
To avoid slippage, add a sticky mat under the placemat, table
runner, or rug.
Soft cosy sofa: a moment to pause
Too often the early childhood classroom’s atmosphere is emotionally
unstable. Many classrooms are fast-paced, frenetic, and sometimes
boisterous. The emotional environment, which refers to the whole
mood or atmosphere of a classroom, is certainly not calm. While it
may be impossible to create a totally relaxing environment, it is
quite possible to provide moments for both children and adults to
Warm and inviting welcome areas give opportunities to pause. These
comfy and soft areas are especially effective when positioned near
the classroom doorway and can be used as an invitation to come in.
They also send the signal that families are valued and children are
appreciated by acknowledging the importance of the transition from
home to school. Setting out children’s portfolios, family photos,
and displays where children can see current topics and interests in
the classroom provide meaningful connections for talking and
sharing ideas with their friends and family.
Welcome & goodbye rituals: a moment to connect
One of the common everyday moments in a classroom is welcoming
children into the classroom and saying goodbye at the end of the
day. These are perfect times to capture the power of a moment. Take
a look at the following ideas for powerful moments of connection.
Each child (or family) has a unique stone to call their own. As
each child enters the classroom, they find their unique family
stone and place it in a basket. Placing the stone in the basket
symbolizes the transfer from the family to the classroom. When
leaving for the day, the family stone is removed from the basket to
symbolize the moment of departure.
Use walking sticks as a powerful moment to connect at the beginning
of the day. When children arrive in the classroom, they find their
own personally designed walking stick and move it to a designated
spot. The transferring of the walking stick is a ritual denoting
the moment of their important entry, the transition from their
outside world to the classroom, and their presence in the
For a weekend project, send home white cardboard block (available
at craft stores) for children and parents to create as a family. Do
not give them specific directions on what to do with the blocks.
Just tell them to have fun, use their own creativity, and create a
block representative of their family. Once the blocks have been
returned, use them as a strategy for denoting the moment a child
arrives into the classroom. When a child comes into the classroom,
she can find her family’s block and put it in a special place to
celebrate her moment of arrival.
It is important to make every moment matter in the early childhood
classroom. Take a moment to look for how to transform everyday
moments into extraordinary moments for young children…and watch the
the amazing potential and
of today’s small everyday
- Zina Harrington
With over 45 years of experience in the early care and education
field, Dr. Sandra Duncan has extensive experience in working with
young children and parents, teaching at the university level
(doctorate students and early childhood students), designing and
writing professional development programmes for practitioners, and
authoring several teacher resource books. She is the proud grandma
of Sierra Elizabeth, an energetic and vivacious pre-schooler!