Saturday, February 06, 2010

Perfect Things

Last week I witnessed two of the most perfect things I've seen as a preschool teacher.

The seventh assistant teacher
Raising hands at circle time is among the skills that is the most challenging to teach. That's why I rely so heavily on my Pre-K kids to do the heavy lifting, largely through the process of role modeling, but sometimes they take a more direct approach.

I can't remember what we were talking about, but on Wednesday there were a lot of 3-year-olds shouting out to me during circle time. I went through my usual routine of saying, "I'm looking for people sitting quietly on their bottoms with their hands up," but it wasn't getting through. Charlie L. in particular kept saying, "I'm sitting on my bottom with my hand up!" but he wasn't the only one calling out without waiting his turn. I love the enthusiasm, of course, and one of my bragging points as a teacher is that the kids really participate in our circle times, but without proper hand raising etiquette, all is for naught.

My assistant teachers (remember, we're a co-op, so I have 6 assistant teachers in the form of parents in the room with me) were doing their best, crawling across the rug to quietly intervene with kid-after-kid in a game of circle time Whack-A-Mole, while I plowed forward with the pedagogically correct technique of rewarding those who were raising their hands with my undivided attention. And in spite of doing everything just right, we still had constant interruptions. (That's because kids are their own independent human beings and sometimes free humans spontaneously band together to pursue a common purpose even if it defies its leaders. When the people rebel in a democracy, their leaders really only have two legitimate choices: relent or persuade. Threats and force might be effective, but those are the tools of tyrants, and all they teach children is that might makes right.)

I was on the verge of resorting to one of my very persuasive twice a year "I'm disappointed" talks, when I noticed Jack (a Pre-K kid) scooting over to Max (a 3-year-old). He took hold of Max's biceps and nudged his arm into the air. Max complied without resistance and at the first possible opportunity I called on him, "Max has something to say."

A few minutes later I noticed Jack making his way to Charlie L. He took Charlie by the biceps and nudged his arm into the air. Charlie complied without resistance and at the first opportunity I called on him, "Charlie has something to say."

Jack's been around the block. He knows how circle time is supposed to run and he took it upon himself to make it happen, quietly and effectively.

Thursday's circle time went much more smoothly, with a lot of successful hand raising. I'm not giving Jack all the credit, just most of it.

"I'm sorry, Finn V."
We have two Finn's in class this year: Finn V. and Finn P. The adults only use the initial when there is cause for ambiguity, but the children, even the Finns themselves, usually include the initials.

We were outside on Thursday and I was busy "guarding" the little world while watching Finn V. carefully using chalk to color bricks on our wall.

He had done two in the center of the wall and had moved over to work on one near the edge. Isak took a paint brush from the water bucket and started painting over the two bricks Finn had previously colored.

Finn shouted, "Hey!" threw down his chalk and began to stomp off. I was on the verge of intervening but luckily I waited an extra beat. Isak turned from his painting and said, "I'm sorry. Finn V."

Finn paused in mid-stomp, looking at Isak from the corners of his eyes.

Isak said, "Finn V., I'm sorry."

Finn pivoted, and instead of storming off, sat heavily on a bench, wearing a glowering face. Isak walked over to him, still carrying his paint brush, got right in his face, and said, "I'm SO sorry, Finn V."

Finn, still wearing his sour face, grumbled, "That's okay."

Again, "I'm SO sorry, Finn V."

"That's okay."

Isak went back to painting, carefully choosing a spot where the bricks had not been colored. Finn sulked for a minute longer, then went off on his way.

Human beings simply cannot have a more mature emotional exchange than that. Isak's honest mistake and sincere apology could only be matched by Finn's ability to forgive even while in a fit of justified anger.

I have no fear for our future.

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Juliet Robertson said...

Hi Tom

I'm going to throw a spanner in the works here! My apologies in advance. Have you ever considered a "no hands raised" circle time? When you ask a question, everyone is to think of an answer and remain quiet. You chose a child to respond. If the child says "I don't know" or something similar, respond by asking "What would you say if you did know?" ...Just a thought!

Next - lots of rain is not a problem for free flow between the indoor and outdoor area. Here's some ways around the matter:

1) Children wear rain gear - you are SO lucky living in REI city - such a shop does not exist over here!The children do learn to put on outdoor gear independently.

2) Have outdoor shelters - can vary from golf umbrellas and tarp to formal structures. I like sandpits in sheds! Little play houses help too.

3) Capitalise on the rain - big water play, water based art activities, waterproof dressing up clothes, puddles, etc.

4) Think about a drying area indoor for soggy equipment and clothes. Likewise check that your cloakroom area has sufficient space for changing in and out of wet gear and storing it. Use portable storage that can be moved about if necessary.

5) Undertake a risk benefit assessment and train adult helper to keep an extra sharp eye on children in cold rainy weather - have warm snacks on offer such as soup, hot chocolate, beans on toast, etc.

Please do get in touch if you want more info, moral support, encouragement, a moan!

Best wishes

Marla McLean, Atelierista said...

Amen to hope for the future.
A sincere apology is difficult and mature to say, and difficult and mature to accept.
It's these small moments honored that make this work with young children so fulfilling.

Deborah Stewart said...

This is the last post I am reading for the night because you have touched my heart so deeply with your two stories that I want to take that with me for a bit!

Three things...
When you said "crawling across the rug to quietly intervene with kid-after-kid in a game of circle time Whack-A-Mole" I laughed out loud.

When you described the little boy helping to quietly raise a hand, I got chills.

And when you described the child who sought forgiveness and the child who was able to forgive, in spite of being mad made me tear up.

Better than going to the movies and cheaper too!

Unknown said...

I love the "Whack-A-Mole" analogy. It does feel like that sometimes! (Friday in my class!) I was trying to put it into words to a co-worker..."Whack-A-Mole"---I love it!

I don't know that I could try a "no hands raised circle time". I work so hard at facilitating the interactions, that it might feel like group regression! I already feel bad that our circle time goes over and I still don't get an opportunity to allow everyone to share answers. Something to think about I guess.

Whack-A-Mole....I'm still giggling!

Unknown said...

How wonderful that he accepted the apology and began again. Beautiful indeed.

Heba said...

That was truly beautiful. I am an ECE student and your blog among other ECE blogs have been helping me a lot!

Thank you!