Tag Archives: play

Overcoming the ‘I don’t get it’ blues

Most of us can recall a time in school when we just didn’t “get” something. In the third grade, I witnessed a classmate hiding the fact that he couldn’t tell time. The teacher had expected him to do an errand for her and told him to leave his desk at “exactly 1:45.”  He had to confess that he hadn’t a clue what that meant. And his past November, I attended an open house event for my niece, Lauren.  She stood in the hallway very upset because her construction paper turkey didn’t look at all like her first grade peers or the teacher’s model. I recall her saying, “mine looks like a duck with funny feathers.”

Small matters, right? But not to a child. I am guessing that if I would have asked my third grade classmate how he was feeling when he didn’t know how to tell time or if I would have asked my niece why she was so upset about her turkey the answer would have been the same:  “Less than brilliant” or “I am ashamed.”

Play builds confidence and so much more!

“Not getting it” happens to every child. What we want is for them to bounce back, to not lose confidence in themselves as capable learners. Our faith in them helps, of course. So does having their teacher’s support. But there’s something else that can restore a child’s sense of competence, and this old-fashioned remedy is always effective, even when a child does not let you in on a discouraging experience.

Simply give the children in your care the chance to play every day. It has to be real play, though, where a child decides what to do and how to do it! In play, children set their own challenges and find out they can succeed. Children usually choose tasks that challenge them, but aren’t overwhelming.

When children are playing, they don’t worry about failing. Play, after all, is supposed to be fun. And you don’t get evaluated on fun. What’s more, because play is a no-risk situation, children often find themselves attempting more and more. In play, children try out new skills and discover they can perform at a higher level.

When they’re playing, children can pretend that they’re the ones in charge. Instead of being told when to get on the school bus, a child can be the driver. Instead of having to finish their vegetables at a meal time, a child can become the cook. Instead of taking a test, an older child may play school and be the teacher. Play builds self confidence. In play, children put aside feelings of being powerless and experience being capable.

Give a child in your care the time to play and you will be giving them time to re-charge. A child at play is someone who solves problems, generates new ideas, is curious and creative. A child at play is someone who sets and meets challenges, risks trying out new skills and experiences what it’s like to feel capable and in charge. And sometimes, a child who plays is someone who’s bouncing back from a temporary bout of “not getting it.”

Nobody Likes Waiting! Transition Times as Teachable Moments

How to ease and minimize wait times for young children in your ECE classroomWaiting is difficult for everyone. I often find myself feeling impatient or frustrated when I’m stuck in traffic or standing in an impossibly long line at the grocery. I shuffle from one foot to another, sigh or start tapping my fingers on the wheel… this is just the beginning of some of my own challenging behaviors! If I’m reacting this way as an adult, imagine how it feels to be a young child to wait for extended periods of time, told to be quiet and stand in a straight line with their arms at their sides.

Transition times when children are changing from one activity to the next require lots of support on the part of the teaching staff. These are the times when children may be more likely to engage in challenging behavior, so they are typically the teacher’s most difficult part of the day! Let’s face it, if you have to stand around and wait, it becomes really hard not to touch what’s around you or to talk to the person next to you. Adults have a hard time waiting five minutes for their turn at the gas pump!

Why are transitions so difficult for children? Caregivers often have unrealistic expectations. Transitions are often too long, leaving children with extended amounts of time with nothing to do or think about. Children need a predictable schedule; they need to know what is coming next and how soon: “Mary, in five minutes we are going to start cleaning up to go outside.” If a child is frustrated by having to leave a project before they are ready, let them leave it as is and come back to it later. The world does not end if the room is not completely cleaned up and the cleaning crew has to sweep around a fantastic Lego structure!

How do we determine if transitions can be managed more effectively for the children in our classroom? Take a step back and observe what is happening. Because teachers are in the thick of things, they sometimes don’t see the obvious signs and problems. Ask yourself what you could change to make transition times more effective. Are you frequently interrupting play to move on to another space and another activity? Do you need to be?

Transitions can be great teachable moments when we plan ahead. Here are a few things to try:

  • Interactive songs that keep their minds and bodies engaged.
  • Guess what’s in my bag
  • I Spy
  • Clap and Stomp patterns for the children to repeat
  • Whisper to gain their attention. They have to quiet themselves to hear you.
  • Walk like various animals, tiptoe, stomp, fly like a plane or pretend you are on a roller coaster as you move from one space to the next.
  • Turn around facing away from the children and change something about yourself and see if they can determine what is different. Don’t forget to give the children a chance, too!

Providing children with activities and keeping them engaged while they are waiting or transitioning allows children to continue their learning and discovery while making our job more enjoyable. If only we could have this much fun waiting in line at the grocery store!


Get in There and Play!

I just had the pleasure of spending some time at the beach with my kids. I truly enjoyed watching them run in and out of the waves, jump into the swimming pool and play games that needed nothing electronic! For the first day or two, I sat idly by watching their fun and listening to them giggle endlessly. And then it hit me like a ton of bricks: I shouldn’t sit by and just watch their fun, I needed to participate in it with them from beginning to end. And so I did. I enjoyed being knocked around in the waves with them, playing water tag with them and holding hands as we strolled leisurely down the beach searching for the best seashells we could find.

Like parenting, teaching is something that we need to do with the children we encounter each and every day. We must engage and interact with the children through all of the experiences that we offer to them, be it outside time or group time. On occasion, I have seen teachers hide in the corner of the playground or stand quietly by as the children ride bikes and kick balls and create their own experiences. I often wonder, what’s missing from that experience not only for the child but also for the teacher? On the playground, children have the opportunity to use their imaginations and create games with rules all of their own making. They have the opportunity to be leaders and explorers. Teachers have the opportunity to observe the children as they lead and explore and create these games with rules all their own. They also have the chance to observe large muscle activities and have conversations with children about curious new subjects like dirt, or maybe a sound they’ve never heard before.

So, the next time you visit the playground or take a walk around the neighborhood, ask yourself, how can I enhance this experience for children? Participate, enjoy and capitalize on all opportunities that are presented to you, even if that means you get a little dirty. I promise, the memories you will create with children will be that much more meaningful because you were there right along with them, not watching from the side lines.