From the moment 4-year-old Madeline walked into Ruth’s preschool classroom at JDN there was no doubt where the action was going to be that year.
“I knew Madeline was going to give us a run for our money, but I also knew that this delightfully energetic and creative child would quickly find a place in all our hearts.” said Ruth.
Much of Madeline’s behavior stemmed from the fact that her parents had demanding professional lives that prevented them from spending time with their only child; they were also overwhelmed by Madeline’s strong personality. Madeline had learned that if she screamed long and loud enough she could manipulate her parents into giving her attention or anything else she wanted.
In class, when Madeline was told she could not have all the toy ponies for herself, or that a new friend wanted to play with someone else, she threw herself down on the floor and had a howling tantrum — upsetting everyone around her.
To calm her down Ruth hugged Madeline and told her “I know you are mad and sad, but Ben is playing with Sophie instead of you this morning so you have to choose another friend to play with.” When this approach didn’t work, Ruth suggested that Madeline spend time with Paula Friedman, JDN assistant director.
Paula’s small office, tucked away off JDN’s main hallway, became one of Madeline’s favorite places. The room has pictures of flowers on the wall, a water fountain, stuffed animals, small squishy balls, cozy wraps, soothing music, and low lights. As Madeline relaxed in Paula’s office the two talked about feelings, did stretching exercises, and practiced taking deep breaths. After about 15 minutes Madeline would be ready to return to the classroom where she usually meandered over to the arts and crafts table.
Using paper, glue, and crayons, Madeline worked on projects of her own design that showed great imagination and style. Ruth seized on this opportunity for the two of them to use brightly colored sticky notes to write books about feelings. Madeline also had a flair for fashion and created outrageously whimsical but highly ingenious ensembles at the dress-up corner.
“We soon realized that art was the key to unlocking the puzzle that had been Madeline,” said Ruth. “She channeled her high energy and emotions into whatever creative project she was working on. Our goal was not to crush Madeline’s spirit but to change her negative behavior so she could feel better inside.”
With Paula’s professional help and Ruth’s patient guidance, Madeline began to feel much more comfortable in class. She learned how to share toys and friends, and to control her tantrums. It also helped that mid-year Madeline’s mother reduced her working hours. To their mutual delight, mother and daughter began spending quality time together each day.
Madeline soon realized her potential and became a delightful preschooler. The last day of the school year Madeline’s mother presented Ruth with a stack of books and a large pad of sticky notes with the enclosed card: “Many thanks to a teacher who realized that sticky notes can be turned into future pieces of art.”