Daycare may make me a better teacher, but I have a long way to go…

I wrote a post recently on “intervening for productive talk“, and I realized in re-reading it how much my teaching is being changed because of daycare. Specifically, the bit about not coercing participation and also plainly telling students the things I notice about their participation, is totally from daycare. Anyway, here are just some of the things I’m learning in daycare, which I should use more in the college classroom:

  1. How children act has a lot to do with how they feel. How they feel has a lot to do with their environment and relationships. In helping with day care, I’ve learned to pay more attention to how children are feeling, and work to promote environments and relationships that helps them feel safe and engaged.
  2. I’ve learned to discern the difference (or least aim to) between disruptive behaviors that are the result of boredom vs negative feelings. Some unproductive behaviors I have also learned to see just as “habits” that have become compulsions. The child literally is struggling to physically stop their body from doing something. Others I have learned to see as resulting from lack of skills. An example comes from one child L who has been struggling with “pestering”–  a normal way we all see “pestering” is sort of like identifying that person as “being a jerk”. It’s easy to experience it in that way, but we’ve learned to see his pestering in different ways including: L sometimes pesters when he is bored with the current collaborative play, but doesn’t know how to “elaborate” or “extend” the play. One of his habits when play has gotten boring is to turn it into pestering. If I see the early stages of pestering, I’ll suggest a way they can elaborate their current play. This morning, L and A were pretending some lego blocks were spray water guns and were spraying the coffee table. When L got bored he turned to pretend spraying A in a pestering manner. So, I helped them to extend their play by suggesting they get some rags from the play kitchen and see if other things in the house needed cleaning. The two of them were off and playing. Other times, L pesters when L approaches another group wants to see what they are doing. I have come to see this as L lacking skills to enter play. When L comes over to a group that is engaged in something and I see early signs of pestering, I’ll try to model for him a few options of things to say,”What are you guys doing?”, “Hey do you want to go over to the sandbox with me?”. I also can see L’s pestering as reflexive and out of habit and compulsion. For example, L was very engaged in building blocks with me and other children (and not seeming bored), but he got distracted when some blocks fells over and he started pestering one of the other children with those blocks. I just quietly said, “That’s not what were doing right now. We’re focusing on building now.” And L refocused on the building that he actually wanted to be doing for another 10 minutes. In essence, I was just reminding L about what he wanted to do, and what he was accidentally doing. Finally as we’ve had more and more conservations with L about what pestering is, sometimes we’ll just remind him that he’s pestering again.
  3. “Sports-casting” (narrating what you see children doing) is one of many powerful tools for developing language, but also for developing my own and their awareness. This includes narrating what children are doing / using words to describe their feelings / identifying problems in the environment to promote awareness, identifying options and choices. It can be overdone, and it needs to be done is an observer mode, not in judgment mode.
  4. Everyone needs to share responsibility for problem-solving trouble that arises during play. For example, we generally have a rule that if you don’t like the way you are being touched, you need move your body. Or If someone is screaming, and you are the one touching them, move your body. This is the default rule. Of course, if you are sitting somewhere special doing something special, you shouldn’t have to move your body. Or if you do move your  body, you shouldn’t have to keep moving your body to be safe. But still, having the default be: “If you don’t like something, walk away.” is a good one. Before, sometimes one kid would be hitting another kid (not necessarily in a way that would hurt, but maybe), and the kid being hit would just there are cry and wait for the adult to fix it. In that scenario, the child is acting as if “only adults have responsibility to repair trouble.” Bethany spent probably 4 months using the phrase, “move your body” before the children started using that phrase themselves. We’ll often hear, “I’m moving my body” from the other room. In doing so we have modeled and practiced skills for noticing and repairing trouble. Another useful skill we have learned has been learning to recognize when you are feeing overwhelmed, and need some time away.
  5. Moralizing at children is the worst.  I’ve learned to recognize when I’m getting roped into it. Bethany and I get a good laugh, when I get roped into moralizing. It’s good to go easy on yourself.
  6. A really really good day care day is NOT a perfect, trouble-free day. In fact, a normal day is all about moving into and out of trouble (and trying to repair that trouble),that’s how we navigate the day. Too much trouble with too little repair makes us all exhausted. And that certainly happens. But the best days actually involve cycles of repairing trouble (rather the absence of trouble), learning about new kinds of trouble, and succeeding or struggling to repair it.
  7. I am learning how to “prioritize the continuity of play”. When trouble in play arises, the goal is not to “moralize”, “punish”, “make it a teaching moment”,  the highest goal is repair trouble so that play can continue. And I am so not even close to being successful at always doing so, but knowing that’s the goal, really changes how you view things.
  8. I am learning to see caregiving routines as “the important work that we are doing together” rather than the “obstacle to doing something else.” For example, on a wet winter day, for us, it takes a single caregiver about 40 minutes to get all the children properly dressed and outside (including diaper changes). If you see that 40 minutes as the obstacle to getting outside, you are going to be really really frustrated. If you see those 40 minutes as the primary activity that we are all learning about (and trying to get better at) then it changes everything. Even things that don’t take long, like wiping hands and mouths. I’m learning to slow down and tell children about I am about to do, and wait for them to give me a signal they are ready. I invite them more often to help, and because of it, we are all calm, and they all learn to care for themselves quicker. The 2-3 year old kids here can all wipe their own hands and face, put on and off their shoes and boots, get on their jackets, put on and take off pants, get into and out their booster seats, etc. This never would have happened if we had seen those things as obstacles to rush through.

I though I was going to write a lot this post how I see it as connected to college classrooms, but I’ll save that for later. For now, I’ll just leave a few comments. First, think I don’t do enough work to see students’ lack of engagement are stemming from feelings they are having (and how the environment or relationships students have in class) contribute to those feelings.  I also don’t take enough responsibility to see and re-see students’ trouble in or with a class through different lenses (e.g, different ways of seeing L’s pestering). I also think that in teaching, we have non realistic ideas of what good teaching days look like. A good teaching day isn’t when everyone “completely understands your example problem”, and then “perfectly works through whiteboard problems”… A good teaching day should involve cycles or trouble and repair (of different grain sizes), and the best days of teaching sometimes are filled with big troubles with big repairs. Finally, I want to try to prioritize inquiry (or problem-solving) in my interactions with students. Whatever I do, the goal should be to intervene in ways such that I can walk away and students continue to inquire or problem-solve. How will I act differently with my students when I see this as the primary goal above all? Last, there are times in the curriculum, where we rush through “care giving”…and I want to be more aware of when I’m going that, and the negative impacts it has when we do this to students, and what skills they don’t learn because we hurriedly do it onto students.

blah blah blah… it’s nap time.

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