Believe

“Santa Claus is not real,” announced a little girl in my class last week.  “It’s grandmas and grandpas who bring all the gifts. My mom told me.”

I looked up from what I was doing, horrified.

The class considered her remark for a moment.  Then immediately, one child said:  “That’s not true. “  Another followed up confidently:  “There is a Santa Claus.”  And another:  “I saw him one time.”

In the back of my mind, I wondered if I was bearing witness to a historic moment in the lives of 17 kids – the awful revelation that there is no Santa.  That moment you remember for the rest of your life.  How old were you when you found out Santa wasn’t real?  You remember that moment!  It is deflating.  I don’t remember how old I was, but I have the distinct memory of being angry that someone had told me.  Everything was ruined!

Believing serves as a metaphor for all the joyous mysteries and magic in life.   If Santa’s not real, neither is the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, Superman, or various other characters of faith.  I mean, really, where do you draw the line when you hear Santa is a fake?

My heart was breaking just a little when I heard this girl blurt out her news.   But the response was – forgive me – a little bit like an old classic Christmas movie.  The entire class not only insisted without a shred of doubt that Santa was real.  They actually began to convince our resident naysayer that he was real as well.

No one batted an eye with the news of the Santa scam.  The kids simply didn’t believe it.  I mean they didn’t even consider that she could have a point.   The communal belief was powerful and persuasive, even this little girl stopped to ponder the possibility.

I stopped worrying that we had a “There-is-no-Santa” scandal on our hands.   He is real because the kids said so.   They believe it.  And so do I.   Happy Holidays!

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Making Amends

I was on the playground last week when I noticed a little girl – “V” – sitting by herself looking despondent.  This is a child who is very empathetic to others and quite sensitive, but self assured and rarely phased by the slights of other children.  V is resilient in every sense of the word.  So her demeanor on this day surprised me.

When I went over to ask her what was wrong, she turned away and wouldn’t speak to me.  While I was probing her for information, three other little girls approached us.

One of them said:  “She’s sad because we told her she couldn’t play with us.”   The others looked on in earnest agreement.  They studied at the sad-looking V.  Then they looked at me expectantly.

It struck me how honest and sincere they appeared.  It almost seemed like I didn’t need to say anything.  Like they were going to take the words out of my mouth.

“That doesn’t seem very friendly,” I said.  “And look at V now.  We don’t want to make people feel sad.”

Before I had even finished my spiel, one of the girls, the other two quickly in tow, rushed to V with her arms out.  “We want you to play with us!” she said cheerfully.  V wasn’t having any of it.  She got up and ran away.  The three girls ran after her.

I watched this scene wondering how this was going to play out and secretly hoping they were fast enough to catch up to V and right their wrong.  Interestingly, V slowed down.  The girls caught up to her and the three of them embraced V in the most gentle group hug I’d ever seen from collection of kids this age!

I snuck a little closer, wanting to hear how they were resolving this but not wanting them to know I was listening.  The conversations that kids have are so much more fascinating when adults are not perceived to be around.

“We are sorry,” One of them said.  “We want you to play with us,” said another. “Yes,” the third agreed.  V seemed satisfied with this.  She perked right up and they all went running off together.

I will never know the whole story here as is the case with a thousand other social incidents that my class has throughout the day.  I only hear about it when a party has been injured or frustrated enough to finally go get the teacher.  I’m often unclear on the origin of social conflicts and count on the kids to report accurately to me so I can help, or I hope they can solve the conflict on their own.

In the case of V, I was encouraged to see the girls acknowledge their mistake without even really needing me.  They saw that they had hurt their classmate. They knew quickly they wanted to remedy it.  They didn’t care about saving face or making excuses.  They did the right thing (after doing the wrong thing).   They fixed it in a truly genuine, heart-felt way, non-defensive way.

It’s a simple story, maybe even a sappy one, but nevertheless, one that made an impression on me.   One of the powerfully unique things about children is that they are, for a short time, wholly unselfconscious.  They can make a mistake and then quickly make up for it without feeling burdened with shame or bogged down with complicated baggage.   And the victims of the mistake are just as quick to forgive and move on.  It is just pure.

As a teacher of young children, I often envy them for things like this.  I wonder where that all goes when we grow up.  When we hurt people, why is it so hard to say we are sorry.  Why is it so hard to forgive those who hurt us?  Of course it’s riddled with the complex dynamics of being adults and all the neuroses we develop as we grow.   We hold grudges and take things personally and throw on meaning to things when we shouldn’t.

Kids take things at face value and don’t make it more complicated than that.  They live in the moment.  When you have a classroom of kids who behave this way, it can foster a supportive and trusting environment.

These kids aren’t little angels all the time. They shouldn’t be.  Really, who would want that?  How boring!   They make mistakes, they can be mean, they can be destructive. But it’s all just experimenting and learning how to be good citizens of the world.  The classroom is practice ground.

A kid can go ahead and knock over a classmate’s block tower.  But the expectation is that he is affected by what he did afterward.  He sees his peer’s shocked face.  He wants to rectify it.  He can apologize and actually help rebuild the broken tower.  The other kid can be upset, but he accepts the mistake, and allows the help. They work together to fix it.  We all move on.

That’s the ideal of course.  But every now and then, it happens.  And it feels good.

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Not all Hearts and Roses

A friend confessed to me yesterday that he thought my last blog entry was “fluffy”.   He told me that I was beginning to sound like teaching was all hearts and roses and he intuited that I was missing an opportunity to hit on some important issues.

I must say, I worried about this recently.  Admittedly, I sometimes look at my own class and little bluebirds fly around my head.  I’m not joking.  I feel that “in love” with them.  The community we are building together (not to mention all the academic achievements) brings a sense of accomplishment and camaraderie that feels really good.   It’s the kind of thing they mean when they talk about teaching being a rewarding profession.

But truth be told, I’m no Pollyanna.   Yes, I respect each kid.  Yes, I encourage diversity of ideas.  Yes, I try to appreciate each kid’s respective learning and behavior style.   But there are some days that feel like we’re all going backwards. Days when my best strategies are not working and when, despite my best efforts, I am at a loss for how to handle something.

The challenges of teaching can run the gamut from demanding (sometimes irrational) parents, to children who are unresponsive to your best teaching methods, to social issues between kids that seem impenetrable.   There are so many personalities to contend with.  Co-teachers, administrators, parents, all those kids – and the work is personal, which means it gets messy. This profession can be exhausting in a way that is uniquely both physical and emotional.

At the end of the day, kids are kids and development, contrary to popular belief, is not linear.  Those days that the classroom feels like Lord of the Flies, it’s okay to let go of the reins a bit and accept that the kids in the class might be having an off day.  To step back, take a deep breath and gain perspective on the big picture. To understand that education and learning are organic in many ways, which means teaching can be very unpredictable.

It’s true.  Teaching isn’t all hearts and roses and kids, being the small people that they are, have the same complexities that adults do – just in a smaller, more compact form.  Every day brings its share of highs and lows and the best teachers are the ones who adapt and change accordingly.  Those who are resilient and able to get back up after one of those bad days.  (see: Teaching Children to Get Up  Off the Mat)

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Diversity of Thought in the Classroom

A couple of weeks ago, I attended TedX BeaconStreet, a conference that touts a who’s who list of the most brilliant speakers in technology, entertainment, and design. ,  The parent company, Ted, (Ted.com) has a tagline that reads:  “Ideas Worth Spreading.”  The premise behind Ted is that a diverse set of minds from a variety of industries come together to sort of cross pollinate and share their respective perspectives on a variety of big issues like education reform or global warming or the financial crisis.

The concept is that the power of ideas can change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world. “It’s both a virtual and physical clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world’s most inspired thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other.”   Ted is remarkable not simply by virtue of its impressive speaker list, but the fact that these people, many of whom seem to have nothing common, are all in the same room together.   You can literally see ideas being formed and evolved as these brilliant minds brainstorm and feed off one another.   Like “Wow, I never thought of it that way!”

Sitting at the conference, fully entertained by the fascinating range of speakers, I began thinking about the significance of diversity of ideas when learning.   A room full of neuroscientists will think about a problem through a similar lens. A room full of neuroscientists, musicians, educators, and politicians will most likely come at the same problem in a very different way.  The theory being that this “recombination” of expertise can advance the solution to a more sophisticated level. As an educator, this brings an interesting and powerful opportunity.

How can we foster this cross-pollination of perspectives in problem solving in our own classrooms?  After all, our environments are ripe with diverse perspectives.

In my own classroom, I have an expert in dinosaurs, another who is an amazing artist, another who can do gymnastics like an Olympian, one who negotiates masterfully whenever there is a conflict between kids, another who regales the class with so much humor that they are in stitches.  We have leaders and followers and everything in between.  We have those who are book smart and those who are people smart.  Funny kids.  Shy kids.  Brilliant kids.  And each one has something valuable to offer to our learning and idea sharing process.

What I took away from the Ted conference was this.  There is an important role for each child to play in the classroom.  We need them all – the more diverse the better.  There is no place for one to be marginalized. Even those kids who appear to struggle either socially or academically play a pivotal part in the idea generating process.  In an early childhood setting, this might be something like working out the strategy of how to approach a puzzle, or deciding what the class wants to learn about for its next curriculum theme.

In the end, it is another critical point to be made for classroom community.

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Happily Ever After – The Power of Storytelling

“Wow,” I say to a little boy in my class.  “Now that is an interesting picture you made.  I’m so curious about it.”

He is holding up a paper with orange, black, yellow, and green scribbles.  The little boy, “D”, looks at me with his giant blue eyes and says, “It’s a very dark forest and there is a scary animal that lives in there.”  Looking sincerely frightened, he points to the middle of the paper. “Right there. See it?”

I look at his scribbles, nod, and probe for more information.  “The scary animal has big teeth and there is a little boy who lives in the forest.  He’s right there,” D points to a small dot on his drawing.  “And the scary animal tries to eat him so the police have to come and put him in jail!”

D looks at me and I can tell he is watching to see my reaction.  He is wondering if I believe this story.  And, in turn, he is wondering if he believes it himself!

I match his wide-eyed expression and say,  “That is a very scary forest!  Good thing the police came to get that animal and save the boy!”

He pauses for a second, a little surprised by my reaction, and then smiles and continues on with his story, elaborating as he goes.  It becomes more and more ludicrously full of gory details and drama of the boy getting chased, and ultimately the boy becoming brave, turning around to face the big-toothed, scary animal, until all is well again in the forest.

As D tells his horror story, holding up his drawing of scribbles for visual effect, the class is mesmerized. Their gazes alternate between him and his enthusiastic storytelling, and me.

“This is not a true story,” another boy in the class says flatly.  The kids look at me, mostly knowing that of course he is right, but wanting a grown up’s reassurance.

I just smile.

The 5 year old imagination is truly a fascinating thing.  The fine line between reality and fiction remains a constant tension for kids this age. It is a time of fearlessness and fearfulness all wrapped up in one little, bursting-with-energy-and-exuberance person.

Story telling is an effective and flexible way for kids to express their biggest fears and decide on an outcome that feels right to them.  It is a safe and fun way for kids to take something scary and mold it into something manageable.

On paper and in their imagination, they can take control of that scary animal (or whatever) and smash it down to size!  They can make themselves all-powerful and brave in their stories.  Subsequently, they gain mastery of their fear.  Not to mention the myriad opportunities for literacy skills, sequencing, and narrative development.

A little girl in my class recently told her own story about a “naughty princess” who basically ransacked her mother’s castle by knocking over furniture and breaking things.  The naughty princess’ mother was quite upset, as one could imagine.  But then the naughty princess decided she would only be naughty for one more day and then she turned into a good princess.

When the little girl finished telling me her story, accompanied by an elaborate 3d picture of a castle, she smiled contentedly.

In her story, which she read to me with gravity, she was able to let herself be “bad” and then get redeemed in the end, no questions asked.  It was a wonderful exercise for this little girl to “try out” being bad in a way that was inconsequential. It’s like this story helped her get it out of her system, and more importantly, let her be “bad” just temporarily.  She didn’t have to carry that “badness” around too long.

Our storytelling project, which came about organically as I happen to have a class full of master storytellers this year, will be an ongoing initiative this year in my classroom.  I look forward to the tales of scary monsters and mischievous little girls and all sorts of other adventures from the mind of the 5 year old.

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The Fun and Frenzy of the Field Trip

What they don’t tell you when you become a teacher is that a class field trip can be among the most stressful days of the entire school year.  Oh sure, it looks like it’s all a fun and happy adventure, a day away from the classroom, cute little faces peering out the bus window.  But in reality, it can be nothing short of nightmare.

I kept waking up the night before our annual apple picking field trip – do I have the epi pens for that child who is allergic to bees?   What if someone throws up on the bus?   Do I have everyone’s emergency contact numbers?  What if I lose a kid in that stupid maze they have at the apple orchard?  It’s all so unpredictable and virtually impossible to be prepared for the myriad disasters that could occur with so many little bodies out in the world.

There we were.  17 kids.  Three teachers.  6 parent chaperones.  On a school bus heading up to the apple orchard for our annual fall field trip.   It was loud.  The kids were beyond excited.   They kept unbuckling their seat belts to get a better look out the bus window and I was on hyper vigilant teacher duty.  I mean laser focus don’t-get-in-my-way teacher focus, rushing down the bus aisle every time I saw a head pop over the seat to remind them to sit down and buckle up.

Once we arrived, the orchard was crawling with children from other schools.  Like swarms of ants.  You had to wade through them just to get from point A to point B.  I was becoming increasingly anxious about keeping track of my kids.  They were all over the place and the chaperones were chatting with one another and happily wandering the orchard eating apples.

At one point, I found myself sweating and carrying two gallons of apple cider, three boxes of cider donuts, and some silly and VERY heavy coloring books courtesy of the orchard, when one of our chaperones approached me with a strange look on her face.

“I lost the boys,” she announced.  “What?” I responded.  “Are you joking?”  She had an odd, indiscernible smile on her face that I was having difficultly reading.   “No,” she said. “They ran off and were like a mile away.  I couldn’t get them.”

My head was ready to pop off at this news.  I looked beyond her and all I could see were stretches of apple trees.  Acres of winding trees and branches and bushes.  The boys, one of whom was her son, were gone.  While I was on the verge of imploding and expiring into a poof of smoke on the ground, I calmly put my apple orchard tchotchkes down and began my search.

For the next two minutes, while I marched up and down the rows of apple trees, I went through a litany of scenarios, not the least of which included calling 911 for a professional search and rescue mission through the apple orchard.  I know I appeared calm (this is something teachers learn to fake even in their worst moments), but inside I was in full-blown panic mode.

Eventually I saw two tiny specks in the shape of boys on the horizon at the end of the row of apple trees.  I screamed their names so loudly and maniacally that other school groups stopped and stared to look at the crazy teacher.   The boys obediently and immediately came running to me in a full sprint.

I must admit, the image of the two of them running toward me through the trees on this beautiful sunny, fall day was quite beautiful.   But I was stressed out, exhausted, and slowly turning into a basket case.  When they arrived, I read them the riot act about staying with their chaperone, the danger of getting lost, and the responsibility of taking a field trip.  I even threatened that they might have to stay at school for the next one.  Later, when I had collected myself, I felt guilty about this.  They were just being normal kids in a place that is all too perfect and tempting for running free.

So why in the world, you may ask, would any teacher in her right mind bother to take a field trip when they could stay in the safe confines of their classroom?  Truth be told, a field trip is one of the most bonding experiences a class can have together.  It is an adventure of epic proportions (relative to their life experiences).  It’s equivalent to a junior year abroad program in college.

The shared experience of a field trip is one of those memories the class remembers fondly at the end of the year. It is a growing and learning experience – together as a group. It is exciting to leave the confines of the classroom, to see one another in the larger world, and come back to tell about it.

Dazed and back on the bus at the end of our field trip, I counted 17 little heads, thanked god everyone was accounted for, and gave my assistant teacher the thumbs up.  As we headed back to school, the bus was quiet with exhausted children.  When I finally sat down to eat my cider donut next to two sleeping kids who had become fast friends that day, I couldn’t help but feel a little proud for getting through the day.  And when I heard a little boy proclaim to his mother that afternoon, “I had the best day of my life!” I knew it was all worth it.

 

 

 

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It’s 5:00 Somewhere – The Classroom Cocktail Party

“I love your classroom,” a colleague said to me recently. “Every time I go in there, it feels like a cocktail party.”

I wasn’t sure at first how to take this comment, but it made me chuckle.  I mean, hey, who wouldn’t want their classroom described as a cocktail party?

Later I followed up with her and she said:  “Everyone in there is so happy and relaxed. The teachers and kids are all just having such a good time!”

In my classroom, we laugh.   A lot.  There is laughter between teachers, between kids, between teachers and kids.   We bring out humor in even the most stressful situations.   We appreciate how truly funny the kids are and we allow them to enjoy that in one another.

Teachers can’t help but bring their own style and approach to life into the culture of their classroom.  They set the tone by virtue of their personality.  The kids follow suit once they know what is expected of them and what is tolerated in terms of behavior. There is a distinct vibe that varies from classroom to classroom depending on the dynamics of the teachers and the kids.

Only recently have I realized how powerful humor can be in a classroom setting.   Used appropriately, humor puts children at ease. Children at ease concentrate better, feel free to make mistakes, and recover quickly from failure.  They are given room to decompress and keep things in perspective.

Humor allows kids to save face when something embarrassing happens.  The other day, a little girl spilled a large pitcher of milk all over the table during lunch.  It was a mess and was traveling across the table getting all the other kids’ lunches wet. The other kids all began yelling and the little girl was horrified. She froze. Someone shouted at her to get a paper towel.  She began to cry.

When I realized what was going on, I admit my gut reaction was irritation.  The kids looked at me to see how I was going to respond.  They always do, and this is the opportunity to set the cocktail party tone.   I first told the little girl calmly: “No big deal. We’ll fix it.”  Then I made a silly joke asking who let the cow into the classroom.  The group thought that was pretty funny and the heavy, tense energy in the room instantly dissipated.

School is stressful for most kids.  There are so many different personalities and conflicts to navigate; both social and academic.   Anything teachers can do to alleviate some of that stress helps to create a more effective academic environment and a community where learning is actually a fun experience.

Humor enhances relationships. When the classroom genuinely enjoys being together, a sense of intimacy develops among the group, thus making the classroom community all the more powerful.  After all, it’s 5:00 somewhere!

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Everyone Loves a Good Story

One of the reasons I love teaching is that I am genuinely fascinated by people’s stories.  When you teach, no matter what age, what ability, what subject, you learn so much about your student’s lives.  As teacher, you get to watch their life stories evolve and develop.  You become a formative part of that process.  Ultimately learning changes a person just by its very nature to expand thinking and thereby transform.  As a result, the classroom takes on a narrative all its own.  The stories of the individuals become the story of the class as a whole. This collective story is what defines the community of the classroom.

Children are often described as simple and straight forward. They are considered uncomplicated perhaps because they are typically direct in their approach.  I disagree with this notion. Although I usually pride myself in being able to size people up quickly, I know that it takes time to get to know the kids in my class.  My first impressions of them are not always accurate.  Sometimes my first impression is spot on, but the child changes over time.  And this is precisely because a child is more nuanced than we often give them credit for. The root of a child’s behavior or personality is not always what it first appears to be.  Their stories are more complicated than that.

As I meet my new class – all 17 of them – I am struck by the depth of these young lives.  They are stories in progress. The early years of their memoirs.  Already so much imprinted on those developing minds.  I am intrigued to know them and decipher who they are.   Where they fall in the sibling order, what the family dynamic is like, what their expectations of school are, how they respond to responsibility, challenge, conflict.   And  most importantly what baggage they bring with them – isn’t that really the bottom line of all our stories?

I was sitting with my new group of 17 today – they were listening intently to me  – and I felt a great sense of respect for these children.  Like I was part of something important and we were at the beginning of a very powerful journey together.   I am  anxious to see where this story goes!

 

 

 

 

 

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The Man With No Hands

I was walking along the Charles River today when I saw a guy that lives in my neighborhood.  This man has no arms or hands.  He is often out walking or at the nearby restaurants.  I hadn’t seen him in a while and it made me think back to a time a couple of years ago when my then 5 year-old nephew was staying with me in the city.

We were out having a lazy day.  My nephew likes to feed the ducks and look for bugs and toads along the river bank behind my apartment building.  On this particular day, the guy with no arms was walking toward us on the bike path.  My nephew did a double-take like the kind you see in cartoons with the head spinning at warp speed and smoke residue left behind.  His jaw hit the ground and he watched, eyes wide, as the guy walked by us.  I tried to pull his gaze away as to not make the man uncomfortable but my nephew shrugged me off so he could get a good, long look.  The man with no arms, most likely not unaccustomed to gawkers like this,  just smiled and walked on past us.

“That man has no hands!” my nephew exclaimed after he had collected himself. I agreed with him and tried to normalize the whole thing by mentioning that he is out often and lives nearby.  A few hours later, still on his mind, my nephew asked if I remembered the man with no hands.  I said I did.  He asked if I knew his name.  I told him I did not.  “Why haven’t you ever met him?”  he asked.  “I don’t know. I just haven’t.”  He pondered this for a minute and then said: “Well, next time you see him, you should say hi and ask what his name is.”  Then my nephew paused and said, “But just don’t try to shake his hand. Because he doesn’t have any.”   At this, I burst out laughing.  I found this hysterically funny. I mean I could hear the “buh dum chhha” in my head!  But when I looked back at my nephew, he was not laughing.  Clearly he had not intended this introduction of me and the man with no arms to be a Saturday Night Live skit.

In his very earnest and sensitive way, my nephew just wanted to make a genuine connection with this man, as different as he was in his eyes. He was not afraid of this man as I assumed, but more curious.  In fact, he really wanted to know more about this guy.  My nephew did not judge or feel like he needed to put up a wall against his disabilities.

The kindness of children (a phrase coined by author and teacher Vivian Paley) is profound, and manifests itself in all sorts of ways.  As I look forward to the new class year – two weeks, egads!!  – and at least one special needs student in my class, I also look forward to the support and care of the rest of the kids.  They will be the ones who take care of one another, regardless of whether they have hands to shake or not.

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Why the Village Matters

In lieu of having a classroom of kids to inspire my blog this summer, I have been getting all sorts of ideas about community through my nieces and nephew.  I have a three year-old niece, an only child who has not yet started preschool. Her exposure to other children is somewhat limited, but she has sophisticated play skills, a fabulously creative imagination, and excellent language. All which benefit her greatly when she is in the company of her older cousins, lets call them precocious one and precocious two!  The cousins, girl and boy siblings, ages 10 and 7 respectively, are also very socially connected children; extremely empathetic, fun loving, and curious about the world around them.

It has been particularly interesting watching my 7 year-old nephew interact with his 3 year-old cousin.  He is accustomed to being the youngest in his family – sibling to an older sister who holds the world in the palm of her hand.   Yet with his cousin, he gets to take on a different role and be a different kid.  He gets to be the big one with all the experience and wisdom.  And he is visibly pleased with the opportunity to impart some influence on his younger cousin.  He takes a great deal of pride in his relationship with her and is remarkably kind and connected in his interactions with her, meeting her just where she; leading her in play, explaining things patiently to her, and basking in her adoration of him.

The other day, she was crying and fussing about not wanting to take a bath and in the middle of his feverish pedaling down the driveway, my nephew screeched his bike to a halt, threw the kickstand down, and announced confidently:  “I”ll take care of this problem.”  We all watched as he marched into the house.  Several seconds later, the crying stopped.   He returned moments later looking valiant, hopped on his bike, and sped off.

For my little niece, the chance to be with other, older children – particularly family- is a formative learning experience.  You can’t help but feel exhausted as you observe her scurrying to keep up with her big cousins; trying to process what is going on with their fast-moving play, complex language, and nuanced interactions. She doesn’t miss a thing whether she is rushing behind them into the waves at the beach, joining in their imaginary play games, observing them squabbling with each other, or being mesmerized by their masterful negotiation with their parents.

I have actually witnessed my niece talking aloud to herself as she internalizes what is going on with her big cousins in her effort to keep up. Incidentally, this “self narration” is a very intelligent and effective tool for children to use as they make sense of the often chaotic world around them. Child development theorist Lev Vygotsky coined the phrase “private speech.” He was referring to children speaking aloud to guide important cognitive functions, such as, planning, monitoring, guiding oneself while engaging in various activities (kind of like when we adults talk to ourselves as we’re getting organized). For my niece, this literal talking herself through something is actually assisting her own development and consequently helping her keep up with the big kids.  Very resourceful!

In my classroom, I have found that for children with special needs, this kind of “sports casting” as it’s called is very useful in helping children understand the experience they are having.  So if the child lacks the capacity of speech,  a teacher can fill in and speak aloud for the child.  It is literally just stating the facts of what is going on so children can make sense of their experience.    (stay tuned for more on this topic in a future blog post)

I write about my nephew and nieces to give a small example of how community can be found in many places, and how important it is for children to have exposure to relationships outside the immediate family.  It gives them a chance to try on a different role, be a different person, and take on new responsibilities.  It allows them to break out of the mold we often get trapped in with our own families.  In the classroom, children are expected to be on a level playing field, all equally responsible and capable. It is their opportunity to show who they really are and can be – not the oldest, not the youngest – but their own independent self, contributing in an important way to a larger community.

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