What I Learned at Daycare

As a college student, daycare is a little different.

For my first summer as a college student, my first summer back in Newnan after making Athens my home, I knew it was time to get serious. I couldn’t laze on the couch like I did during my high school days. It was time to get a serious, proper job. I couldn’t volunteer all the time; volunteering wasn’t going to pay student loans. A letter from the Humane Society wouldn’t count as payment for my rent. It was time to be something of an adult-ish creature.

Well, at least, that was the plan.

You see, the biggest issue I’d faced as a college student coming back home for the summer was that the majority of “summer jobs” were taken by high schoolers that lived here full-time. Any other job wasn’t hiring for just the summer, and many discovered that after the interview process. (I’d spent three hours in a Babies R Us waiting for an interview only to be told they were “highly impressed with me, but wouldn’t be hiring short-term.”) So my job search went on for much longer than I’d anticipated.

Finally, however, on May 30, the day before summer truly began (at least that’s what I told myself to make me feel better) I got a call. A local daycare wanted me to start tomorrow. I was ecstatic. To be honest I’d forgotten about that application entirely; I’d did it quite offhandedly and when asked for any actual qualifications for an early childhood education center, I figured I’d never get the job. But out of sheer luck my enthusiasm mixed with their desperate need for help and bam. I had a job.

Now when people think “summer job,” usually it’s a hand at a car wash, a clerk at a grocer, or maybe even a cushy office internship. Instead, I was drinking apple juice and watching Bubble Guppies. Definitely not the worst way to spend a summer. However, I didn’t expect to be as involved with the kids as I was. Or rather, I didn’t expect the kids to be so involved with me. My love for my summer job and my love for these kids has brought me some interesting wisdom that I’d like to share with you. So here are some life lessons given to me by children too young to read.

1. Stay positive in rough situations.

When you’re alone in a room with ten two year olds, every second can feel like a disaster waiting to happen. A kid gets hit, someone falls, someone takes another’s toy. While these are relatively small problems, in a child’s scope of mind, it’s like their entire world is exploding. As an adult, it can be hard to relate to that, as your frame of reference is infinitely bigger than theirs. But if a child washit, all they needed was a hug and an apology, and it was as if nothing ever happened. There were no grudges held, no ill will, barely even a tear shed. The endless energy and enthusiasm of children never ceased to amaze me; after some of the worst days the kids still ran up to me before they left and gave me a hug, which felt better than any praise I could’ve gotten from my coworkers.

2. Snack time is the best time.

If you ever want a huge group of kids to sit down and shut up, hold up a box of graham crackers. It works like nothing else, which came to both my surprise and amusement during my first week on the job. Kids love snack time, and I think our obsession with health food and body image really removed our appreciation for a two-o’-clock Little Debbie cake. It made me think about how much these kids cherish even the smallest things, like snacks, and how we lose that sense of wonder and appreciation as we grow older. Trust me: you’re never too old for snack time.

3. APPRECIATE NAPS (I CANNOT STRESS THIS ENOUGH.)

As anyone over the age of fourteen will tell you, the number one thing they miss about elementary school/daycare was naptime. As we grow older, our responsibilities increase exponentially until the point that we’re lucky for a solid six hours of shut-eye. Even though these kids groan and complain when the sleep mats go out and the lights go off, they’ll be begging for them by the time they reach maturity. In adulthood, any opportunity for a nap is like a diamond in a pile of coal. So make sure to take every second of sleep that you can, as every other adult in the vicinity is spitting with envy. Also exhaustion. Lots of exhaustion.

4. Respect and appreciate the efforts of authority.

As a kid I remember absolutely loathing my daycare teacher; she made me wait an extra 30 minutes for lunch, she put me in the corner, and she constantly called my mom. 3-year-old me saw her as Evil Incarnate, my own personal hell demon. It never occurred to me that she did these things because I bit every kid within four feet of myself. I know getting reprimanded sucks; you feel a mix of shame, anger, annoyance, and patronization, which all ends in a hateful cocktail towards whoever’s cursed with punishing you. But make sure to take into account that they’re just doing their job. No, they probably don’t hate you. No, they probably don’t even care what you did. They just want to go through their generic “don’t do it again” speech and have you both move on with your day. So don’t be so hard on authority; they’re usually just doing it because they have to.

5. Don’t grow up so fast.

It makes me smile every day to see the happiness in these kids’ faces. Granted, sometimes I want to throw them over my knee and spank them silly, but even still. When I see the magnitude of their emotions, it makes my heart ache with nostalgia. The hurricane of tears over a bug bite. The genuine scream when a baby doll is dropped. The elation at the announcement of outside time. The sheer joy of that cry of “your mom/dad is here!” As we grow older we miss a lot of the little things in life, and take for granted things we see every day, such as our family, our friends, or the nice things we own. I appreciate nothing more from this summer than the opportunity to go back to my inner kid again and spend time relearning how to love life and appreciate the happiness that comes with waking up every morning. These kids may not know their colors, but they sure now how to live.

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