Tag Archives: classroom expectations

Let Children Stop and Smell the Roses

Let the children play!Over the years I have observed in dozens of preschool classrooms, and there is a recurring theme that seems to appear in each room at some point: rushing the children. To start a task, to finish a task, to think about a task, you name it and they are told to do it quickly. We as teachers are natural planners, and as you know, planners have schedules and schedules are meant to be followed. So if there are 20 minutes set aside for circle time, as we watch the clock for 9:50, we are ready to rush the end of the story, ask the children to stop in mid-thought or sentence, and move along to the center time. As children are dismissed to go to the various interest centers, they are told to move along, they must not stop to play with toys, dance on their way to the table, or pause to admire a friend’s sparkly new shirt. As an observer, I have seen children working so diligently on a project only to be told, “That’s enough; you need to finish up.”

Children are naturally curious. So much of their learning comes from hands-on exploration and investigation. There is value in a preschool child taking more time at the art table to create a rocket ship than the 20 minutes the teacher has set aside. If we give children time to analyze, problem solve, brainstorm, and compare and classify, they will become independent critical thinkers. Granted, there is not always unlimited time, but allowing children to be creative, appreciate the details, and be active problem solvers takes time.

  • If you are doing a cooking activity and the children want to crack the eggs and stir the batter and you have the urge to do it so it gets done faster, resist the urge. Let the children teach you to slow down and live in the moment.
  • When you are walking outside and a child holds up the line as he kneels down to look at an earthworm, try to encourage his curiosity instead of extinguishing it.
  • If you ask a child to get an instrument out of the music box and he stops to shake, play and strum each one he picks up until he finds it, try to stop and listen to the music. He is learning about the world around him and all the possibilities.

We tend to say children are “distracted” when they stop to notice 10 different things while on the way to complete a task. Perhaps they are not distracted, but engaged in life and appreciating the details. Maybe we as teachers can benefit from small distractions as well.

We teach our children that if we don’t hurry up we are going to miss the next thing on the agenda. I truly believe that in the process of being rushed we are missing so much more. Next time you wait patiently while a preschooler puts on a feather boa, cowboy boots, two crowns, three necklaces and the perfect purse, try to remember how many times they have waited patiently for us. If we let our children stop to smell the roses, chances are we will learn to do the same.

Your words matter!

“Come sit next to me. I promise I won’t bite.” My first thought is, that’s a possibility?!? I know the adult was joking and trying to be silly, but this is a great prompt for us to think about our language. Young children have a difficult time understanding sarcasm and abstract concepts. To the adult, biting the child isn’t an option. That would never happen. She was being funny. To the child, though, the thought of, “Oh my goodness, she may not bite me now but what about later?” may pop in his head.

The importance of specific directions and feedback.

Here’s another one: “Come here, I need to change your bottom.” What else do we change on children? We change their clothes. What does that mean? We take off the clothes they are currently wearing, put them in the dirty laundry, and put different clothes on the child. We change shoes. The child takes the current shoes off and puts on a whole new pair of shoes. When the child hears the word ‘change’ the picture of taking off the current and putting the new on may pop in her head. Why would it be different with their bottom? The adult is using the same words.

“Do you want me to put on your arms?” This was overheard during an art project. The adult was asking the child if she needed help attaching the paper (arms) to the paper. Were they the children’s arms? No. They were pieces of paper.

Why am I even writing about something so silly? Does it really matter what words we use with children? Well, it makes a huge difference. Sometimes it’s the difference between a child understanding directions versus not. An example of this is telling a child to sit on their bottom. We tell children to sit on their bottoms in their chairs, right? When we introduce wheeled toys (tricycle, ride-upons), we tell children to sit on their bottoms. How do we teach them to sit on their bottoms in chairs? We put the chair behind them and tell them to sit down by bending their knees. The chair typically stays stationary and they can sit. What about a tricycle? We tell the child to sit down on their bottom. They go over to the tricycle, put it behind them, bend their knees, and fall to the floor because the tricycle rolled away. To sit on a tricycle, you have to swing a leg over. You may still put your bottom in the seat, but to accomplish that, you have to take different steps.

As adults, we have the life experiences to adjust our thinking or approaches to new material. As adults, we can joke about being bitten because we know it socially unacceptable for adults to bite others. Young children do not have those life experiences yet. Young children are still building their vocabulary. To help these young children understand new concepts, adults need to use language specific to the situation. Instead of saying we need to change the child’s bottom, we can say what we are specifically going to do. “Your diaper needs to be changed.” We aren’t changing the bottom, we are changing the diaper. If a child is having a difficult time joining in an activity, instead of saying we won’t bite the child, we can give alternatives to the activity. “It looks like you are not interested in this activity right now. I see you looking at the dolls. You can pick up a doll if you want.”

As educators, we are told when there is an unacceptable behavior; tell the child what we expect. Instead of saying, “Don’t run” we are instructed to say, “Use your walking feet.” I believe this practice should be used in more situations than just redirection. We should always be telling children what we are doing and what to expect. It’s respectful to the child and ultimately makes our days so much more successful.

Everyone’s favorite five-letter word: R-U-L-E-S

There was an online article that caught my eye the other day. It was about a school in New Zealand who had abandoned their playground rules as part of a study. What they found was that the children bullied less, got hurt less and were able to concentrate in the classroom more. I was astounded, as I think was the expected reaction for the article.

In some ways, this flies in the face of conventional behavior management strategies. When a program comes to me wanting to know how to handle behavior in their classroom, my first questions are about the guidelines they have in place: are the guidelines posted, or are the children supposed to “know” what they are; how many are there; how are they phrased—is it “no running” or “walking feet”; were the children involved in creating them and are the guidelines referenced when inappropriate behavior takes place? All of these go into making sure the children are aware of the expectations that you have for the classroom.

Can you spot the guidelines in this photo? What similar methods do you use in your classroom?

Can you spot the guidelines in this photo? What similar methods do you use in your classroom?

But, typically my next questions are around what is taking place before, during and after the behavior issues. A lot of times it can be narrowed down to ineffective transitions—when the children have to wait for a long time, such as during the group’s restroom break, or when activities end without notice. I suggest providing things for the children to do during those long waiting periods, like I Spy, Simon Says or fingerplays, and letting them know beforehand when activities will end. In the words of the principal of the New Zealand school, “In my experience, the time children get into trouble is when they are not busy, motivated and engaged.” That is what their recess without rules is providing: the opportunity for the children to be busy, motivated and engaged.

In those ways, I can’t say I’m terribly shocked. They are meeting the children’s need for unstructured play. The children get the privilege (and unfortunately it does seem like a privilege anymore rather than a guarantee) to use their imagination. The children are able to problem-solve independently using their critical-thinking and decision-making skills. It really shouldn’t come as a surprise that it’s working.

I’m still torn, though. I have trouble making the leap to fully unstructured play, to no guidelines whatsoever. I would hesitate to implement something like this if I had my own program. I think back to when I worked in a park’s day camp and I had to explain to the children why I told them not to climb trees during a thunderstorm. It didn’t bother me that they were climbing trees during nice weather (which is one of the things the children at the New Zealand school are now able to do), so where do we draw the line? At what point does “unstructured” become truly unsafe? I don’t know the answer. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.