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.
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.