When I come to visit a preschool, quite often toddlers will be frightened by my presence when I first arrive. I'm a taller woman, with a big personality and I usually come in with a big blue guitar bag on my back and a handful of bags stuffed with props to share songs with the children. Usually, a teacher or two will greet me with "Music Lady! You're here!" in an excited tone. For some toddlers, they seek immediate comfort from their caregivers. Crying will usually accompany their fear. Once one child starts crying, others usually follow. Its like a secret toddler code, "if you're gonna cry, I'm gonna cry, I don't know why, we just all need to cry".
Knowing this is not at all unusual, these tiny humans are experiencing a very normal developmental stage where they are weary of new things. I know that it has little to do with me and everything to do with what they are experiencing in that moment. I slowly will sit down and try to get as small as I can, sitting down on the floor in the small chair. All the while that I'm unzipping my guitar case and getting my guitar out, I try to reassure the child that everything will be okay. The caregivers are always right there, with a lap to sit on or a reassuring hug all while trying to gather the other children.
Then I'll gently start to strum or fingerpick my guitar and a hush comes over the crowd. Still not sure if this new sound is safe, the crying may start up again. I will gently ask the crowd of caregivers and other children to join me in a sweet verse of "Twinkle, Twinkle". 98% of the time, this does the trick and the child or children that were upset find their happy place and are ready to enjoy some music. Quite often the same children that had a look of sheer terror when I arrived will be the one jumping, laughing and dancing as we enjoy a little music together.
The other day, I was taken aback at the greeting I received. I very handsome little boy that was new to the program I was visiting, was the first to greet me with a big wave and "Hello!" He smiled so big that his eyes disappeared with laughter, he repeated his greeting several times as I made my way to the chair waiting for me. I answered each "Hello" with a big smile and a greeting, sometimes "Hi!" or "Howdy!" or "How are you?". Then the other toddlers started to join in. Within seconds, 15 kiddos where all saying "Hello" with these great big smiles. The children that were usually weary of me, came in a little hesitant, close to their caregiver, but no one cried!! What a difference that first "Hello" made. That little fella really changed the mood of music time, everyone was engaged and so happy to be there.
I'm excited to see if this will happen when I visit next month or if it was just a one time thing. In the mean time, I'll always be respectful of the fact that everyone reacts to change and new things differently. I can take my time to let them know that I'm a safe person, a kind person, someone that only means to share joyful tones and happiness with them. If they are not up for it that day, I'm okay with that too. My hope is that they feel a little better when I leave, even if its just a sigh of relief.