Friday, September 20, 2013

Are We Cutting in Line?

We spend oodles of time teaching children how to stand in line, how to keep their hands to themselves, how to wait patiently and not cut... but in the end, are we the ones that are cutting in line?  Are our expectations getting ahead of the skills needed to meet our expectations?

REFLECT on that for a minute or two…. 

There are many things we expect of young children that are plain and simply, a waste of their time.  They are a waste of their time because time would be better spent on allowing them to fine tune the skills needed to be successful at the task we are inappropriately expecting of them.  The task that may not be age appropriate.

There are many times our expectations get ahead of necessary skills.  Today, I'm going to focus on just one:

 Standing in a line

I used to have a “bathroom line” that occurred while I was fixing lunch.  I found that instead of fixing lunch, however, I was spending the majority of my time telling children “No, don’t do that”, “NO, keep your hands to yourself.”  “No, you can’t get out of line” etc. etc. etc.

Anytime I have to use the word “No” in excessive amounts, it is a sign that I need to step back and take a look at my expectations.  I asked myself the following questions:

  1. Am I missing a step (have I skipped in line)?  Is there a skill that needs to be developed BEFORE I can expect my crew (ages 2-5) to stand in a line?
  2. Does a young child (ages 3-5) NEED to learn how to stand in a line?
  3. Do I have to teach a young child how to wait appropriately?
Over time, I came to the realization that:

  1. Yes.  I am missing a step.  There is a skill, actually SKILLS that a child needs to practice and perfect before I can expect them to stand peacefully in a line
    Those skills are patience, self regulation, teamwork, collaboration and consideration.  THOSE skills are necessary to stand in a line.
    Think about it.  You are at the grocery store, the line is long.  You need to display great patience.  Imagine the person in front of you has forgotten ONE item.  You need self regulation to stop yourslef from saying what you are thinking "REally?  Are you freaking kidding me?  Go to the back of the line then!!"  Instead, because you are a "master" of self regulation, you smile and say "Oh, no problem...take you time so you don't slip on the butter spill in aisle 7!" 
    Why are we expecting children whose "line skills" sub par at best to do something they are not capable of - at least not to the point of our expectations.  Time wasted standing in line would be better spent on working together on something that is motivating, practicing self-regulation and patience...again, through things that are motivating and child led.
  2. No, a young child does not need to learn how to stand in a line.
    I have observed more times then I can count, my littles forming their own line to do something of their choosing.  For example, a large bucket of goop to get to walk in.  I don’t even have to organize them.  THE CHILDREN ORGANIZE THEMSELVES when they are motivated to do so.  Goop, is just that motivating.  Any idea that THE CHILDREN OWN, is that motivating.  Going to the bathroom is not motivating, therefore it requires more advanced "line skills" (ha).   
  3.  No.  I do not have to teach young children how to wait appropriately.
    Children are the best teachers.  In those moments that I have observed children organizing themselves into a line, I also observed children teaching each other, with words, how to stand in a line.  The children in my program are empowered.  Empowered children can stand up for themselves.  I have heard many children tell their friends to “Stop it” or “Keep your hands to yourself” (admitedly, they learned that lovely nugget from me) or, “you stepped out of line, go to the back”.  AND, they listen to their peers better then they listen to me.
    Also...when children have developed the "base" skills of standing in line:  patience, teamwork, consideration and self regulation, they will be able to THEN stand in a line for the most unmotivating activity (such as going to the bathroom)
My crew LOVES goop.  This picture shows how they have organized themselves and are waiting patiently for their turn to walk through the bucket of cold, wet, messy goop! I had zero to do with this other then get the bucket out, and help them stir up the goop.
The children in this picture have organized themselves in a line.  They are waiting patiently, needing no direction or teaching about line etiquette from me.  They simply had an idea, to fill the cylinder with balls.  Each child added their balls ONE AT A took them FOREVER, yet, they all waiting patiently for their turn.  The children owned the entire moment...including the patient line that went with it.

I then asked myself the following questions:

What kind of opportunities do I need to make sure my crew has that will help them fine tune the necessary skills they need to build a solid BASE for eventually being able to stand in a line?
What can I expect children to do without wasting their time and without me going into auto "NO!" mode?
How can I change what is currently not working into something that does work and still accomplishes the goal, the task of making sure everyone has a turn in the bathroom to prepare for lunch?

Saddle up…this is what is WORKING for MY program (does not mean it will work for you, but it works fabulously for me):

I introduce to you (clear throat and insert trumpet fanfare): 

“The Bathroom List” 
(yes, I's rather lack luster, rather simple...but I have learned through the years that simple is usually what works the best) 

Here's how it works:
  1. I simply choose a child to help me write all of children's names in a list on the white board (you can use a piece of paper, or better yet, a piece of paper on a CLIP BOARD (insert ooohs and ahhhhs from the children...there is just something about using a clipboard)).    
  2. The person on the top of the list goes to the bathroom, when they are finished, they wipe off their name and figure out the next name.   
  3. They then go and tell the next person that it is their turn to use the bathroom.  

That is it....but wait....there's more.....keep reading!!


Over time and through my observations, I realized the "Bathroom List" not only works BETTER then a line, BUT, it is also loaded with unexpected learning!!

This is what I have observed:

1.  Children are recognizing letters in their natural part of a name. 
Teaching letters from flashcards and worksheets is like looking at animals in a zoo.  A zoo is not that animal's natural habitat.  Flashcards that isolate one letter and are used to spoon feed young children information so they can regurgitate it when asked,  is not a letter's natural habitat.  Letters belong in words.  Animals belong in the wild. Why not teach letters in their natural habitat?  Teach them in a meaningful way?  The purpose of a manatee is not to float in a 20ft by 20ft tank.  The purpose of a letter is not to sit by itself on a card.

SIDE NOTE:  I am not a "Zoo Hater".  My daughter is an animal lover, and her goal in life is to be a Zoo Keeper....we go to the Zoo all the time... The analogy, however, makes sense (in my, admittedly, crazy mind anyway!!)

2.   Children are comparing and contrasting.
I don't know if you have observed this, but I see it ALL.THE.TIME.  Children love to point out what is the same in their world.  They get very excited about "same".  As the children look at the names in the "bathroom list" they are proud to announce the letters that are the same as the letters in their own names!

3.  Children are using ordinal vocabulary.
I hear things like "Erik, you are next" all the way to "Amelia!  You are the fourth one on the bathroom list!"  This is a meaningful way for children to learn order.

4.  Children enjoy the sense of order and the peace that comes with it.
There is no more 10 minute period of time filled with constant arguing and "no's " and "don'ts".  That time is replaced with children playing, and taking their turn when a peer tells them it is there turn.  Ahhhhhh......much better for all.

5.  Children are figuring out letter sounds, and comparing them.
Currently, I have two children whose names begin with the letter "E".  "Erik" and "Evie" -- TWO different sounds, both made by the letter "E" -- when discovered by a young child, there is more meaning...and we know that meaningful learning STICKS.

6.  Children are counting.
When we write the bathroom list, it is hard to remember everyone's name.  The natural thing to do to figure out if we have everyone is to count the names on the list!

7.  Children are writing.Children are not forced to do so, but the majority of my crew wants to write the bathroom list themselves.  HUGE meaningful learning opportunity.  So many people ask me "how do you teach handwriting in a play-based program?"  This is how.  Quite naturally.

8.  Children are empowered.
The children own the "Bathroom List" and they are proud.  It is clear as I observe chests inflate and confident voices proudly declaring the next person's name.  Why is empowering young children so important?  When we are empowered we solve more problems for ourselves, we think more independently, we tend to try new things because we feel confident, we ask for what we need, we share our ideas, we imagine more and have confidence in our thoughts.  This, just might be the most important "side effect" of the bathroom list.

The "Bathroom List"  really is a very simple idea, yet it escaped my brain for years.  For decades I felt these children HAD to stand in line in order to learn how, and what better time than when we were preparing for lunch.  I couldn't have been more wrong.

Take a moment to reflect on your program. 
What moments occur during your day that, when reflected upon, are truly a waste of the children's time (and...yours)?
What moments are filled with "no"'s?

Once you have your list ask yourself these questions:

Am I missing a step?  Are there BASE skills that aren't developed yet that I should be giving them more opportunities to practice?

How can I still accomplish the goals or the task needed to be accomplished in a way that is meaningful with more yes's then no's?