Author Archives: Patty Taylor

The privilege of observing of a child’s learning

The other night I was out walking my dog. It is my favorite time to be out with my dog because we are usually the only ones out and we can hear and feel the peacefulness in the air. This particular night was very clear with a hint of chill swirling around us. At one point I happened to look up and I saw a star shooting across the sky. I was amazed at the fleeting beauty and exclaimed to my dog, “Look!” (She didn’t care to look up from the pole she was sniffing). So I was left alone with my thoughts and pondering. As we continued our walk I reflected upon the star and the gift of looking to the sky at the exact moment it flashed across the atmosphere.

Teacher's have the privilege of a "front row seat" to a child's learning

My mind then wandered to the children we serve. What a gift it is to be present and observing at the exact moment a child truly understands a concept. I love seeing the look of amazement and innocence on a child’s face when she “gets it.” The child sits up a little straighter and sees the world through a slightly different lens. There is a mixture of innocence and a little more wisdom reflected through her eyes.

What a gift it is to be the person who helped facilitate that learning. We are the ones who arrange the environment, plan the lessons, provide the appropriate materials, and facilitate the learning. We have the privilege of creating a culture in which exploration is welcome and everyone understands and accepts there will be mistakes. We have the responsibility to develop community where it is safe to make those mistakes, to learn from them, and then move forward with a deeper understanding of the world.

As child care providers we are blessed to be the person who parents have chosen to care for their bright stars, their children. We must work hard to build trust and a relationship that tells parents we will carefully and intentionally teach their children the skills needed so they can soar through life as the bright star flies across the sky. Not only do we need to build that trust but we need to work hard to keep that trust. This means we follow the regulations, we treat children and families with kindness and respect, and we continue learning and stretching our minds.

Sometimes, as providers, we become so caught up in the busy-ness of the job that we forget to observe. I challenge you today to stop for just a moment and be truly present in the lives of the children. Look into their eyes and see the innocence, see their amazement at learning, and see the child as a star.

Hurry up and wait!

It is so hard to wait. It seems we are constantly waiting. We wait in line at the grocery store. We wait in line at traffic lights. We wait to talk with customer service on the phone. Waiting seems to take up much of our time throughout the day. As adults, we are used to waiting and have learned to cope with the lines. Although it is difficult to wait, we know that at some point it will be our turn and we will eventually get what we need/want.

How to ease and minimize wait times for young children in your ECE classroom

Young children, however, have neither the self control nor the social skills to wait for long periods of time. They often do not understand why they are being required to wait and sometimes they don’t have a strong enough relationship with their child care provider to trust they will eventually get what they need/want. In fact, waiting for an extended period of time can cause anxiety and behavior issues.

Wait time for children often occurs during busy times of transition in the classroom. For example, children are often expected to wait in line for the bathroom or for washing hands, they wait to finish group time and go to center time, and they are expected to wait for others to finish eating so they can get up from the table. It is imperative teachers know how to tell when the waiting has been long enough and too long. Below are some tips for transition times and for reducing and avoiding unnecessary wait time.

Have a routine so children know and understand what is happening next. A daily schedule and regular routine gives children the security of knowing what to expect, avoids confusion, and therefore helps the day move along more smoothly. Staff should have a realistic expectation of children’s attention span. When a teacher sees the children becoming restless and irritable she should know to stop the activity and avoid any further wait time. Along with the routine, planning and preparing materials before they are needed is crucial so children are not waiting for the teacher to gather what he needs for a lesson. Also, allowing the children to transition from group time or meal time to center time without any wait time is optimal.

When children are waiting for the bathroom or waiting in line, sing songs, play word or guessing games, recite rhymes, or do finger plays. Sometimes short waiting periods are unavoidable. A simple activity can do wonders by helping the time pass quickly and offers some priceless teaching moments.

Be prepared for some children to finish one activity sooner than others. It is best to plan something for those children who finish an activity quickly so they are not waiting without something to do. For example, if some children finish cleaning up from one activity, maybe they look at books while waiting for other children to finish cleaning up, and then everyone begins the next activity at the same time.

These are just some basic tips to help children during times of waiting. Remember, best practice is that children have as few wait times as possible and when unavoidable, the time spent waiting is short. Children shouldn’t be sitting and waiting for a turn. They need to be moving, exploring, and interacting with the world around them.

How to help children figure out what their interests are

I recently visited the Butterfly Show at the Krohn Conservatory. I entered the butterfly room and my eyes were greeted with splashes of winged color. My ears were met with the laughter of young children. My nose took in the smell of nectar-filled flowers. I enjoyed watching the butterflies as they would bask in the sun, fly from flower to flower, and roost under the leaves of trees. After walking around the area for a while I sat to rest and watch everything around me.

Children need help figuring out what they're interests are!

Later, I contemplated the events of the day and my mind wandered to my observations at the Conservatory. I reflected upon the beautiful, flying creatures and saw them as unique and beautiful individuals. I also reflected upon the children I saw. Each child there was also a unique individual with individual needs, likes, dislikes, and gifts. Just as each butterfly takes a different path to get to the flowers so does each child take a different path to what he needs and wants.

I thought about our responsibilities as child care providers in helping each child find her own path in life and I decided there are so many things we can do to assist children in developing their gifts. Below are some tips in helping our children become the best person they can be and grow into and embrace their individuality and the path they choose.

Child care providers need to offer a variety of materials for children to learn and explore their interests. Having materials available allows children to discover, experiment, and manipulate the world around them. Classroom materials not only need to support a range of interests but also a range of developmental levels. Children have different interests and develop at different rates. Children will also want to use the materials in ways that are different than expected. For instance, Playdoh may become food for the dramatic play area and unifix cubes may become a rocket to fly in space. This is a wonderful way for children to use their imagination and creative skills.

We also need to simply talk with children and allow them the opportunity to share, speak, and converse with us. So many times we talk “at” children but do not allow them to offer their ideas, thoughts and opinions. It is amazing what we can learn from children when let them speak and we actually listen.

Reading with children and sharing stories about a variety of topics will help children expand their interests and knowledge on certain topics. Exposing the children to the many interesting things about our world will expand their vocabulary and show them how big and small our world can be at the same time.

Butterflies instinctively know the path they need. But as teachers, it is our responsibility to show children the many paths from which they have to choose. Being a child is an exciting time for discovery. It’s a time to know they can be and become whomever they choose.

“I always feel like somebody’s watching me”

When I was a little girl my sister and I used to play “school.”  Being the little sister I always played the role of “student.” I was never allowed to be the “teacher.”  It was fun playing with my sister and learning from her. I idolized my sister and wanted to be exactly like her. She was my role model. Eventually, my sister became tired of this game and I was finally allowed to be the “teacher.” Each afternoon I planned my lessons and then taught my dolls and teddy bears about the alphabet, reading, and counting. It was then I decided to become a teacher when I grew up so I could help real children learn to read and count.

Make sure children model YOUR best behavior.

I fulfilled that dream and began my career in a classroom filled with eager three- and four-year-olds. I was quite naive when I began my career and I must admit I made many mistakes. But as I gained experience I became more confident in my abilities. I learned the importance of scanning my classroom to get a sense of the activities occurring around me. I learned to tune into certain conversations between children to watch intently to gather knowledge on the students’ abilities. I soon discovered that watching and listening would also teach me about myself and my teaching style. I learned I had become a role model for not only my students but also their parents.

One day during free-choice time I had the pleasure of observing a young student of mine.  She sat in my chair and directed her students to sit crisscross applesauce. She chose a book and proceeded to read it. She smiled, encouraged her students to read along with the story and re-directed a child when he moved into another child’s space. As the “teacher” continued, I could hear my words coming from her mouth; I could see my facial expressions flying across her face. I saw myself reading the story aloud. I was stunned speechless. I never realized how intently the children watched me and picked up on my mannerisms and talked like me. It was both humbling and a bit scary. I began to fully understand and feel the responsibility of being a role model.

As the school year continued I was more aware of what I said, how I said it, and to whom I talked. I noticed my students and even their parents watching and listening as I redirected children toward appropriate activities, as I provided the language to help solve conflicts, as I praised positive behavior instead of correcting the negative. As a role model I was concerned with how each interaction would be interpreted. I wanted to be certain I always showed a balance of firmness with kindness, consistency with flexibility, and love for my job.

It is so easy to forget that even though we spend our days within a classroom in our own world that others really are watching. It is easy to forget that little eyes and ears are absorbing our every word and action. It’s easy to forget that parents look to us when handling difficult situations with children. As providers, we are role models and it is our responsibility to help children and other adults in becoming role models for generations to come. We have the power to influence our ever-changing world. Let’s use our power for the good of all.

Five tips for reading aloud in the classroom

I spent many years working in a classroom as a lead teacher. I LOVED my time working with children and am often asked if I miss being in the classroom. Upon reflection I discovered there are a few things I truly wish I could share with children again. One of the fondest things I experienced with children was reading aloud and sharing books with them. I loved watching their faces as we read together and learned the story of so many characters. Whether it was helping the peddler retrieve his caps from the mischievous monkeys or watching everyone being woke up by the flea in the Napping House, I was in heaven reading with my students.

A report by the Commission of Reading titled Becoming a Nation of Readers states “The single most important activity for building knowledge for their eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.” As child care providers, think of the impact you can have with the children you serve just by reading aloud with them once a day.

5 Tips for reading aloud in your early childhood classroom

I have found, however, that many teachers are uncomfortable with reading aloud to children. They are afraid to step out of the box and “become” the character in fear of looking silly or doing it incorrectly. Reading aloud might feel unnatural. In an effort to help teachers become more comfortable with reading aloud below are some tips to help story time be a rich and meaningful experience for everyone.

Be mindful of your audience and choose a story that matches the intellectual and emotional level of your students.  Predictable stories and stories with lots of repetition are perfect for preschoolers. Fairy tales and chapter books are great for older children. Choose stories you loved as a child and are excited to share with your students. Your enthusiasm will be contagious!

Practice reading the story aloud before sharing it with your students. Practice will give you the confidence needed to read aloud with emphasis. As you are practicing, think of examples and real-life situations to help build the background knowledge of your students and ways to help them relate to the story. Also, try to develop some open-ended questions to reinforce comprehension.

Use your voice to paint the picture. Your voice can be used as a prop. It can be loud or soft, fast or slow, high or low, angry or kind. Your voice can express rhythm and rhyme and can be music to the ears of your audience.

Facial expressions and body language are crucial. Facial expressions and gestures can help children understand new vocabulary. Encourage children to interact by using the gestures to describe what they see in the pictures, repeating phrases, or having them mimic your facial expressions. The more involved the students the more they will learn and the more they will comprehend of the story.

Lastly, make the book available to students after you have finished reading it. This important step allows children to look at and interact with the story on their terms and at their pace. Children can reflect upon the story and relate it to their world.

Reading aloud is one of the greatest gifts we can give to children.  As child care providers we have the opportunity to show children the world by simply opening a book and sharing the love of words and pictures. I encourage you to take the time each day to share the beauty of our world through books and reading aloud.

Don’t let children lose their sense of wonder!

A few weeks ago I went to a concert. As the concert began I noticed most people were busy taking pictures with their cell phones.  I even took a few pictures too.  I wanted to capture memories. Then something made me stop.  I put my phone away and glanced around.  All I could see were people looking through the lens of their cameras.  I noticed how small the screen seemed compared to what was happening all around me.  I realized I had been limiting my experience to the size of my small phone.  I thought about the beauty I have missed because I didn’t open my eyes to the world around me.  I missed important things in life because I was trying to get the “perfect picture.”  I didn’t pick up my phone the rest of the evening. I lived in the moment and truly experienced my time with the music, the lights, and my friends. As adults, it is our responsibility to keep the fire of wonder alive in each child.

That night, I went to bed thinking about the children we serve.  I thought about the innocence and exuberance with which children experience life.  Children truly live in the moment and crave the experience of the entire world.  Children don’t live through the lens of a small camera. They live with a sense of wonder where everything is bright and magical.  But we as adults sometimes taint this innocence with harsh words and frustration. When we do this we are forcing the child to look at life through a tiny lens.  The memory they will have isn’t a “perfect picture.” When we use harsh words we take away a piece of their light that can never be rekindled.

As adults, it is our responsibility to keep the fire of wonder alive in each child.  We need to tread lightly in the magical world. Instead of living with limited vision we need to look around and see the beauty of the world around us.  Rachel Carson, a writer, scientist, and ecologist wrote, “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.”

I want to be that one adult.  I want to live in the moment and share the joy, excitement and mystery of the world in which we live.  I want the perfect picture to be in my mind and my heart.  I don’t want to limit my view to a small snapshot but I want my picture to be a huge collage of wonderful memories.  Then I want to pass it along to the children in my life so they can create their own collage of life’s beauty and wonder.

The art of teaching children to apologize

Recently, I was chatting with some friends with whom I used to teach.  As we were reminiscing we did not discuss not the language, math or science lessons we had taught our students, but rather we shared lessons our students had taught us.  I soon reflected upon one important lesson taught to me by two children and a bike.

One day, while on the playground, Joshua, a spunky four–year-old, pushed Lauren, a shy three-year-old off the bike he wanted. Joshua rode away, happy to have “his” bike while Lauren was left crying for “her” bike. I very quickly intervened and gathered Joshua and Lauren to my side.  When I brought the children together I had every intention of requiring Joshua to apologize to Lauren. However, when I looked at the expression on Joshua’s face I hesitated. Joshua had a smug grin on his face. Clearly, he felt he was right and any apology from him would be meaningless. Lauren was sad and also angry at what had happened and any apology she would have heard would not have been accepted.

"When not freely given, apologies are empty, meaningless, and humiliating for all involved."

Should adults force children to apologize? Are we actually teaching our children to lie about being sorry when they may not be sorry at all? Are we teaching children to say the words in hopes the feelings will soon follow? Does simply saying the words, “I’m sorry” fix everything? These were questions I began asking myself. I pondered these questions for a while and decided I didn’t have the answers. This soon led me to clarify a goal I had for my students. My goal was to instill in the students a sense of empathy for others while also teaching strong communication and conflict resolution skills.

In working toward the goal I realized that, for me, forced apologies were pointless and possibly detrimental. When not freely given, apologies are empty, meaningless, and humiliating for all involved.  I decided that forced apologies close the door to communication and teach children to avoid conflict instead of learning to peacefully resolve the issues at hand. Instead of focusing on the words I began to focus on the meaning of truly being sorry for a wrong-doing.

Moving toward this goal took time, extra effort and patience.  I created an environment in which it was safe to acknowledge mistakes and discuss the emotions of everyone involved. I brought children together to facilitate the dialogue to identify what each child was feeling and describe what happened. I modeled empathy and used the language of sincere apologies and of forgiveness. Slowly I began to see children following my lead. They began to communicate their wants and needs clearly and listen to one another when someone was upset. The classroom became a place of trust, open communication, sincere apologies and forgiveness.

I am happy to report that Joshua and Lauren resolved their conflict peacefully and they rode off together for a school year filled with fun and laughter. Meanwhile, I learned a lesson about apologies and forgiveness.