What I’ve always loved about my mother was that in growing up she made it a point to let me find out who I was on my own. She certainly guided me as far as safety and supporting me, but it was a RARE occasion that she flat out said “this is what you HAVE to do.” And I turned out okay…I think.
I say all this because I want to make it clear that our children are for the most part already who they are going to be when they get older. They are just smaller people. We do grow and change, but that does not mean that we came into this world having no sense of self, no personality, no desires or passions, etc.
Life experiences will play a role in how we evolve, but that does not mean there was no “self” as a child.
And I think that’s an important thing to remember when we talk about how children learn and even what they need to learn. Their personalities are already thriving and when we refuse to acknowledge that we miss opportunities for them to learn because we are so fixated on adults leading the way.
But what would happen if stayed in tune with our children? What would happen if we kept with the flow of their focus and intent and built off of that? Think about it!
Going with the Flow
There is almost always more than one way of teaching something. So even when as caregivers and educators we have an objective or standard for the child to master, it can be delivered in multiple ways. Why not make it in a way that a child will receive it best and retain it? Usually that’s by their interests!
Yes. Look at what they are interested in doing and build off of that. I’m telling you, my BEST days of teaching was when I watched things naturally unfold and went with the flow of my class. I could have had one thing planned by the book but if I saw that there was an opportunity for them to receive it in a better way, even if it was completely different, I went with it.
Why? Because it isn’t about me. And it isn’t about you, either. That’s the problem with so much of education and especially early childhood education. We big people think we know everything about these young people when they have their own thought patterns and personalities and we get frustrated when they don’t respond to what and how we think they need to be learning. In early childhood (and I would likely say for older children as well) does it REALLY matter? Or do we make it matter because we like control?
How many times have you fought with a two year old and then looking back thought: “was it really that serious?” I will assume for many of you it has happened.
Even though they do not have the years on you, you are still fighting with an ego. A separate human being. And while you may know what’s best in a lot of cases, maybe your confidence in your expertise is actually causing more of a problem than it is helping.
Three Rules for an Educator
So this is why I say that when you are an active educator it is best to focus on the child. Let’s say you have your open ended materials in your play based setting…
- You must listen.
- You must observe.
- You must respond.
In listening, we are paying attention to what the child is saying and not saying. We come to a better understanding of their opinions and interests.
When we observe we are actively watching their actions and making connections with how they move and what they are comfortable doing.
Your response covers a couple of things: how you interact with them in that moment and how you take what you’ve learned about them to implement what they need to learn in a way in which they will receive it.
It’s a constant give and take of feedback. Letting the child lead in activities not only allows for you to learn more about them, but it also makes it clear that you RESPECT them.
A child can tell when you respect them. How much easier is it for them to trust you in teaching them when they know you are truly invested in what they have to say and who they are as a person? It isn’t that much different as adults either, is it? When you know that someone cares about you, aren’t you more likely to listen and share with them? I told you, children are little people. They are not inferior.
Not to toot my own horn, but I’ve always been a creative and I truly believe that that’s helped me as a teacher. I pay attention to my kids and then I just “go with it.” And again, we want to inspire the children. When they are excited about what you are delivering, then the inspiration will come naturally.
This doesn’t mean you have to exclusively stick to what they are showing interest in…no way! We can still give them exposure to new things that they might not have done before. But it’s about balance and still being mindful of who they are as people.
So instead of giving them flashcards of the alphabet, if little Arnold has only been interested in cotton balls in the last three weeks, why not write out letters in cotton balls? And then build on that with something else to make a letter that he has not tried before?
They’re telling you, but are you listening?
They’re showing you, but are you watching?
They’re waiting for you to play. How will you respond