Your child as a teacher

A parent asked me recently why her third year child was grumpy at home, and, some days, didn’t want to go to school (new thing!).  (To clarify, in the Montessori classroom, there are at least 3 ages.  In my classroom, they range from 2-5.  Most children start at 2-3- first year-, 3-4 is second year, 4-5 is third year.  In that time, they move from fascinated newbies to competent olders.  We call the third year children “teachers” and expect a great deal of them.  They always perform. 🙂
It caused me to reflect on what “being a (third year) teacher” means.  It is a LOT more than having a “teacher badge”, and the full weight doesn’t hit them until they are doing it (kinda like parenting, eh?)
We are asking each of them, many times a day, to help us/another child, with a work the younger child has gotten out and doesn’t know how to do, find something, do a chore (dishwashing, putting plates away, making snack), finding their name for snack, washing their dish, using watercolors, finding the markers/clipboards, paper, finding their key word book in the folder and putting it away again, figuring out how to have snack, putting on their shoes, finding where this went on the shelf, putting on their underwear the right way, helping them up when they fall down, helping them wash their hands, listening to them read their key word book, helping them roll a rug……
Not to mention offering comfort.  Story from yesterday that made my day:  Me:(with snuffling 2 year old on my lap) “5 year old, do you know of anything that would help 2 year old?” 5: (looks at 2): “Hmmm. Are you okay?” 2: “Yes!!” (???Keeps crying.) 5: “Do you want a hug?” 2: “YES!!!” (leaps up and they both hug, 30 seconds). 5: “Would you like some ice” (????) 2: “YES!!!!! (Leaps up and they go get ice together. Several other children want ice. Ice all around, via 5.) 
What a great example of one of my favorite MM quotes: “a young child can learn something from an older child which they would never want to learn from an adult.”  So true, every day.
So, if your child is grumpy and worn out after a morning at preschool (more than usual), they are working very hard.  They are using all of their problem-solving, empathy, and patience muscles, which, as we all know, is hard work.
I will reassure you that we do not interrupt any “teacher” at his/her work, if we can help it; they are not here to sacrifice their own learning or process. We do not give them jobs that they would never want (“Can you clean up that vomit?”) or with children who are terribly upset or things which we think are too much.  They are “support staff”, and mostly doing things which we think they will enjoy /feel competent doing.  We are very appreciative of their help, always, and thank them.  We really are appreciative!
The olders are the most enticing thing in the environment.  More so than the materials, and much more so than the adults.  They really ARE role models of concentration, self-directed activity, good humor, calm, purposeful movement, self-regulation, play, enthusiasm, and trust.  They are what convinces the new children that they actually can/will be able to cope in this new space, and may want to.