After many years, we have a new baby in our family. My grandson, Jack, has become the joy of our family. After ten years, I had somehow forgotten the beautiful joy that a newborn can bring. It also helps that he is the most gifted child every born. 🙂
Having Baby Jack around has reminded me about how important it is for infants to make strong learning connections during that critical Birth-12month period. Those connections will only be as strong as we make them. The experiences we create for them must be real and relevant for strong connections to form. I was tying to read a board book to 5 month-old Jack and he was much more interested in how the corner of the book tasted. He was also intrigued when I opened up pages of the book and he suddenly discovered that there were several surfaces from which to choose. That experience may not be what I had in mind, but it was what he had in mind.
I was doing an art workshop in San Francisco this week and we were talking about how urgent it is for us to create hands-on real-world experiences for all children in the early childhood years. Giving a child a coloring book page or worksheet is not hands-on and instructional for cognitive learning. Early childhood educators should be all about creating experiences that can lead to strong brain connections for the children in their care. We must be teaching children to think in critical and creative ways to face the world in the future. We don’t even know what they are going to be doing, but each year we see critical and creative thinking rewarded with jobs and new opportunities. I challenged the group that I was working with to worry less about ‘mess’ and more about experiences. Messes can be cleaned up. Missed brain connections in early childhood cannot be made up.
For years I have enjoyed the books written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes, even the volumes that have not been chosen as award winners. His newest picture book, Waiting, is delightful and fun. The waiting theme made me think of the years I was a kindergarten teacher.
Prior to coming to kindergarten, many children experience a strong build-up by family members. Everyone exclaims, “You get to go to kindergarten in the fall. You must be so excited!” The anticipation for a five-year-old must be enormous. More than once, I had a child express concerns after the first few days of kindergarten. “Is this it?” they would say. It always kept me on my toes to make sure that my classroom was an engaging and exciting experience. I knew I had to live up to the big build-up kindergarten had received, because I wanted them to feel, “WOW! This IS it!”
Waiting also made me think about the number of times I have been in classrooms and watched children waiting…Waiting for other children, waiting for the teacher, waiting for their turn, waiting for their snack, etc. We know that when children are not engaged, the chance of them displaying negative behavior goes up dramatically. A smart teacher will be organized enough to minimize any waiting time for their students, especially early childhood age children. Here are a few things that worked in my classroom to help children avoid waiting:
- There was always something to do. Whenever the children were engaged in a project, there were always more activities to do when they finished the planned activity. I often posted picture of each activity on the board so that the children could look up and know what to do next. This way, they never waited for other students to finish.
- There was a procedure for everything. The children knew the procedures for going to the bathroom, getting a drink, getting a sharpened pencil, getting paper, staying put when the teacher was giving directions, etc. I reminded the children often about the procedures and used those reminders as teaching tools.
- “I’m Next” nametags. I created (thanks to a suggestion from my friend, Sharon MacDonald) some nametags that said, “I’m Next.” Whenever taking a turn was the procedure (using the computer, iPad, sand table, play dough table, etc.), I had the child(ren) who would be next wear the necklace. That way they knew they were next and didn’t keep asking me about it. ALSO, the other children in the classroom didn’t waste time waiting, because they knew they were not next.
- A daily visual schedule. I found it important to have a daily schedule posted so the children knew what was coming next. I was always surprised at the number of children who waited for the next activity. I always told the children that we would move to the next scheduled part of the day when we finished the one we were working on. I would give them a signal when we were ready. I do think that this visual reminder gave them a sense of security and a strong feeling that they didn’t need to wait.
There were many other things I did that helped, but these were the main strategies that helped children avoid waiting. I always strived to make my classroom an engaging, joyous environment, where the children were never waiting and the activities met their high expectations for kindergarten.
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