Even though I didn’t have one particular stuffed animal or material when I was a child, I have always been fond of stuffed animals. I had a million. If you were born in the early 90’s, perhaps you had one of these as well which is the hanging canopy over your bed where your stuffed friends lived. They were my companions and some of them still are. The reason I wanted to write about stuffed animals is because I noticed that every year that I have worked with toddlers (this is my fourth year) they have an attachment/relationship with a stuffed animal and I want to understand it better and help parents and teachers understand the importance of letting the children have their pretend friend with them at school. This year, there have been tricky moments in our classroom due to wanting a stuffed animal to hold. There are a couple of children who only use their stuffed bulldog or unicorn during nap time while there is another child who will only put her pink piggy down when she is washing her hands and then immediately picks it back up and puts it back in her arms.
Now, we have a set of twins who are CRAVING this connection with a stuffed animal/toy as well. We have a purple basket in our dramatic play area that has many babies and stuffed animals. Of course, they can use them at any point of the day, but they are for everyone and if one of the twins has the Mickey mouse, then her sister becomes upset and wants it too. We do our best to navigate this and use this as a sharing/learning opportunity, however, toddlers are not developmentally ready to share and they don’t understand fully why they can’t have it right then and there. So, what happens you might ask? Tears and screaming and attempts to pull it from each other’s arms. During these moments, I have ended up having to take away the one toy that they both want to help them calm down and work through it. Of course, I feel like I am a horrible person as I put their desired treasure way up high out of reach of their tiny hands. Yet, it is the only way to handle the conflict in the moment. Therefore, we tried telling their caregivers to bring in two stuffed animals/toys that they love from home to school so that they have something to hold and comfort them but isn’t a source of fighting. Unfortunately, the family didn’t agree with this strategy and thought it would be more difficult that way, so they said no. I must take a deep breath as I write this because it felt upsetting to not have been trusted enough by the family that we do know what we are doing and that it wasn’t an open conversation still. However, the family comes first and it is up to us at school to support the children in the best way we can.
So I decided to use this opportunity to do what I have done in the past three years with my previous twos class, which is provide one stuffed animal that becomes our class “pet” and a book with it and we will send both home to each child on the weekends and they will put photos of them and their child with the stuffed animal in the book. I remember doing this when I was a kid in Kindergarten and absolutely loved it. There is something about having a stuffed animal that isn’t yours but you get to take care of it for the weekend and share it with your home and family. I feel that this project will help solve this problem of sharing possibly because they can see their friends with the animal and that they are all taking turns with it and they get to have a small taste of what their friends’ homes and families look like. Children love seeing themselves in pictures and their mommies, daddies, and siblings. Even though my team may not be as excited about this as I am, I still want to do it and try it out. It may still cause sharing problems, it may make some parents upset, but as an early childhood educator with years of experience, I am going to trust myself and do what I feel is going to be both fun and a learning experience.
Since these children are only two years old and it is their first time in school, and perhaps away from their caregivers, it isn’t always an easy transition. In fact, it’s usually pretty difficult. We have to tear away the children from their parent’s arms as they are crying and screaming and then make them say bye to their attachment figures and leave them in a new and strange place with new and strange people. What the heck! It sounds awful right? Well, of course, we do our best to not pull them off of their parents and do it more slowly and carefully, but sometimes it does happen this way. So, my thought is that children use stuffed animals/toys to place their comfort, their attachment in to help them feel secure in school. Why should we be the ones to take that away too? Its only a stuffed animal. They will grow out of it. (Or they won’t and they’ll be a 35 year old woman with a stuffed animal, which is also totally fine and I have seen it!)
There are some important research studies that have been done that also show there is a magic behind stuffed animals and toys and that children want the ones that is theirs with their smell on it. I want to look into this further and keep learning about it but for now, I will leave you with this…
Trust your child.
Trust your child’s teachers.
Let your child be a child and let them be the ones to tell you when they are ready to grow up!
Have a great day beautiful humans!