The past two weeks I have been teaching summer camps to children ages 4-6 years old. I get to spend three hours with the same group of kids each day for a week, which is quite a change from my normal teaching schedule. Our daily activities includes anything from dancing, arts and crafts, free play, story time, snack time, and even cooking! This has opened the doors to a lot of interactions that I normally do not get to have with young children, and has given me the opportunity to consider how I could respond.
I place a high priority on being mindful and intentional with my interactions with children. I have noticed that I say, "no" in situations where I could say, "yes." It is much easier and faster for me to do things in the classroom. I can pass out the napkins in 30 seconds. I can pour the juice without spilling. I can keep things neat, clean, and organized. I have to remind myself of the importance of supporting a child's independence. It is important for children to have responsibilities and do / decide things for themselves. I have no problems with this at the beginning of the day when I'm fresh, the children are excited to arrive, and we have all of our time ahead of us. The "no" creeps in when the parents are set to arrive in five minutes and the room looks like a tornado has hit or when we are 30 minutes late for snack, and there is a whole lot of crankiness in the room. Yet, I think that it is the most important to make space for "yes" in these moments. I am constantly reminded that children are sponges. My every gesture, mannerism, tone, and language is mimicked, and fuel for future interactions. When I am at my most frantic, frazzled, and exasperated, I am being watched. I am teaching how to handle these moments. What is the example I want to set? I want to say, "yes" and be considerate of a child's need to be independent and make decisions despite my own feelings of frustration. I want to say, "yes" and foster and encourage considerate, helpful behavior even when I am in a rush. I want to teach that no matter how you are feeling, you must always consider the feelings and needs of those around you. Being tired/cranky/stressed/angry/rushed is not an excuse to treat others differently.
Another way I consider the yes/no dilemma is to consider how I would respond if another adult asked the same question. I find that my answer would almost always be "yes". Why do I treat children any differently? A child is perfectly capable of discerning when to go to the bathroom or if he/she is thirsty. Yes, he/she may be asking out of boredom, but I remember doing the same thing as a college student. This class is boring, I need a break, I am going to leave the room with the only valid excuse- the restroom. If I was denied that right / privilege I would have had feelings of resentment towards the teacher. I believe that the situation holds the same truth for young children. When we say "no", and that "no" feels unfair or unjustified, we negatively change the atmosphere of the classroom.
Sometimes a "no" is necessary, and in those situations I am realizing how valuable it is to communicate to the child why. If the answer is "Because I said so" than a "yes" was probably in order. Safety is a reason I often say "no" in the classroom. We may not run inside because we could get hurt. We may not throw inside because we could hurt ourselves or others. We may not use the hot glue gun because we could burn ourselves.
As I type this I feel silly for having to advocate for the concept of granting permission in the classroom. It seems like a universal truth, an obvious way to behave and treat others. Yet, it is much harder to put into practice when you have a classroom of fifteen-twenty children with very vocal needs and opinions. By saying, "yes" you are relinquishing control and allowing some chaos into the classroom. It requires you to be vigilant in your observations and to trust your student's judgement. It requires you to explain how, why, and when in every situation, creating teaching moments for students to draw from later. It means being patient when messes are made and accidents happen.
Lastly, I want to mention that this framework is most successful when you have established a clear, regular structure for your classroom. My students know what to expect every day, and what I expect of them. This means having a routine for
how to enter the room, where to go, how to wait for the other students to arrive, what we do when everyone has arrived, how to express needs, where things belong, and every detail in-between. I can allow my students to make decisions and have responsibilities because I have considered every transition and activity and how to maneuver it.
I learn my best when my brain is free to focus on the task at hand. I know that sounds obvious, but I have noticed that when I am in new situations, much of my thought process is devoted to making sense of the world around me. What is the proper way to behave? Every community has its own culture, and as human beings we are constantly adapting to our current environments. As an educator, I work hard to eliminate this guessing game for my students. The first day of a class session and every time I sub a class, have a new student, or change the structure of my class, I take the time to explain a few things. I have heard some teachers describe this act as “Meet the Studio” and while the space is one aspect of the class, there are other crucial elements in knowing what to expect.
I introduce myself to every person who walks through my door. I do my best to make sure that I am able to look the person in the eye with a smile on my face. I include my name, as well as my job title and how it may relate to them. For example, “My name is Ms. Rebekah, and I am one of the dance teachers at the school. I teach Sara on Tuesdays.“ If a person is sitting down, I will make an effort to sit next to them to introduce myself. If it is a young child, I kneel down to their level. I do not count an introduction with a child’s parents as meeting the child.
“My name is . . .” In this day in age, it can be difficult for students of any age to know what to call the teacher. Is there a title in front of your name? Are you going to go by your first name? Last name? If you have made the decision to be called something that is different from the culture of the school or community, then it is important to explicitly state that information. “My name is Rebekah Chappell, and you may call me Rebekah.”
When I enter a new space for the first time, my eyes always scan the room for the lay of the land. We orientate ourselves in space. Where is the bathroom? Where are the entrances and exits? Where is the front of the space? Where will I stand or sit? What is on the walls? What is the lighting like? When I look out the windows what will I see? Some of this processing happens subconsciously, and I have noticed that the younger the child, the more observant he or she is of the space around them. Young children notice every micro change in an environment. The first class should include time spent orienting the learner to their space. This can also happen at an orientation before the start of the session.
I highly recommend orientation sessions. This is a time set aside for setting expectations. It ideally includes time for a student to meet their teachers and begin to build a relationship with them. It allows any questions or concerns to be addressed in a low key, informal environment. Students will often ask questions individually that they are not willing to ask in front of their peers. If students are registering and beginning a class after it has begun, I highly recommend having the new student come early the first day. If that is not possible, have the student come at another time to meet and speak with the teacher, see the space where class is held, and be introduced to the flow of the class. I ask current students to introduce themselves to the new student as well as explain how the class proceeds.
If orientations or early meetings are not possible, I take time to do this in class. I try to anticipate any need my students may have in my classroom and explain to them the etiquette of class. For example, "The bathroom is located down the hall. It is important to go to the bathroom before dance class so that you do not miss any part of class. If it is an emergency, you may quietly leave the classroom at the end of an exercise to do so."
Next time I will discuss how to introduce classmates and the structure of class.
This is a blog of processes. Through the sharing of media and writing I am following my impulses, teasing out and unpacking, translating, solidifying, and making concrete my investigations into something that can be shared.