The Importance of Curiosity

Teaching should satisfy the curiosity of the children and stoke the curiosity of the teacher. – Sarah Riley

Last week I attended a professional development workshop that had us defining some of our values as teachers. I had done this activity a few years ago because I feel that it is important to know what you value in your life and in your classroom, because it defines what you do, how you act, and… well, it defines pretty much all aspects of your classroom. If you haven’t sat down and defined your own values, I recommend that you do so. It helps so much when it comes to planning, goal-setting, and other aspects of your teaching.

Anyway, because I had already done this activity it was easy for me to write down the three values that were required of us during this activity. Since I finished before most people, I wrote down little sentences to highlight why I find these values to be important. In case you were wondering, curiosity, independence, and exploration were the three values that I wrote down. And the quote above is what I wrote down under the value of curiosity.

I have found that curiosity is a driving force – maybe the driving force – of everything I do in the classroom. I plan around the things that the students show curiosity about, and I learn so much about those things because I have to find resources and plan activities to help them learn about those things. I find myself curious about the things that the children do, how they learn, how they interact with each other, where they need me to take the direction of their learning. There is so much to be curious about in the classroom, and so many ways to satisfy these curiosities.

Reflecting on this quote at this time, I think that I would change it a little bit: I think I would say “Learning should satisfy the curiosity of the student and the teacher, and stoke their curiosities in order that they can learn even more.” When you learn about something, it doesn’t satisfy that desire to learn. Usually when I learn something, it brings about even more questions about even more things that I want to learn about. This is what I mean about stoking that curiosity; it is satisfied about one thing, but it keeps going when it comes to something related or even something totally different.

I heard a great quote on a podcast today (which was quoted from a different podcast that I don’t think I’ve heard yet): the opposite of depression is curiosity. I’m not sure I completely agree with it, but it does make quite a bit of sense. When you are curious, you are striving to figure something out or learn something; you have a goal and a purpose. When you are depressed you don’t have any of those things. No goal, no purpose, no anything. When we are teaching, we should have a goal in mind, something that we are striving for. Interested in how to foster productive relationships in the classroom? Develop a curiosity for how children resolve conflicts, how they learn empathy, and how to teach these skills to them. This is the essence of curiosity in the classroom, and curiosity leads to learning.

Going Back to School

I’m becoming excited about my place again, excited about what I am learning and doing. It has been a while since that happened, but I think that a pretty big change in direction has helped with that.

I decided to go back to school. A mentor has been suggesting it for a while, but I have brushed it off as unnecessary, since I have had the business and all. But the business isn’t cutting it, and it hasn’t been going the way that I intended for it to, so it is time to continue on my own personal journey so that I can figure out where the business needs to go. I have a really awesome idea where it should go, but I need time to get it there. And schooling. I think learning more will be a good thing. It usually is. After my mentor mentioned it and I scoffed at it (I actually filled out the application but didn’t follow up with my transcripts), I spoke to another woman who has had years and years of experience in the early childhood community as a consultant. I asked her how she came to be doing what she has done, and one of the major things that she mentioned was schooling. So apparently necessity in this field. I thought I could be one of those people that can drop out of college and make their mark. And in a lot of fields you can. But not this one. That may seem funny to some people who are reading this – that I actually thought that. But when you look at the innovators of this age, the Steve Jobs and the Mark Zuckerbergs, those are some pretty big role models who did not need to complete college to get where they are today. I look at the people I admire in the business world and they are saying and doing the same thing. But this isn’t the business world. This is the education world. Its a little bit different and I am working really hard to accept that. I love to learn, but I hate classrooms. I know that as I get farther along in this journey that will probably get better, and luckily there are more online learning programs now than there ever have been. That helps.

So I’m packing up the business for a while and going back to school. It is actually almost a relief. It will give me more time to post on here, I know that. I’ve missed it here.

Getting What We’ve Paid For

I don’t generally comment on presidential elections; I had my political phase a few years ago and now I’m content to spend my time worrying about things that I’m more passionate about, such as education. That doesn’t mean that I don’t pay attention. I follow news stories and generally know what is going on, but I don’t obsess about it. This stage of the election cycle is the part that I really try to stay away from. I call it “The Circus,” when all of the clowns that feel that they are uniquely qualified to be the President of the United States come out of the woodwork and begin shouting at each other and generally doing anything they can to discredit each other. If you can’t tell, I’m not a big fan of this part of the process. While I recognize my need to know who the clowns are and what they bring to the table, I’m not going to obsess over their antics from that point on.

One clown that I have been looking at a little more closely is Donald Trump, but not for the reasons that you would think. I am fascinated by the fact that so many Americans view him as a viable candidate. Now, don’t read more into this than I’m saying; I’m not saying that he isn’t a viable candidate. I’m completely neutral on all of the candidates right now because it is still early in this race. But this Donald Trump phenomenon has my attention because it is different. This man captured the attention of the American people. He’s popular. And I can’t help but think that this system that we have been paying into is finally showing its real fruit. Yes, I will tell you what I mean by that.

Look at our education system. Children are in a system that rarely teaches them to think for themselves or problem-solve their way through a lesson. Worksheets upon worksheets make our children good at doing one thing: worksheets. Schools don’t teach children how to be creative because most teachers are looking for one thing: the right answer. I would argue that some of the most successful people in this day and age are people who have dropped out of school and created something. Look around and tell me I’m wrong.

Schools do teach children some things that aren’t academic, however. They teach children who the cool kids are, how to dress to be one, how to talk to be one, and what to watch to be one. You aren’t cool unless you know what happened on the hottest new show on television and can wear the clothes and have the hair that the girls and guys have on those shows. And Donald Trump just happens to have starred in one of those hot shows. He got the reputation for being tough and not putting up with any crap. I’m sure he probably is that way in real life; you can’t be as successful as Trump is by putting up with anything. But life seems to be mimicking a reality television show at this point, with everyone rooting for the star. And that is why the Donald Trump candidacy is so fascinating to me. Trump is treating other candidates and even former candidates as if they are in the boardroom, calling them out for things that (to me) don’t even matter when it comes to a presidential election – such as whether or not John McCain is a war hero. And the public is eating it up, just like they were when he was on reality TV. To me, it feels like reality TV has met real life.

 

The Cult of Personality

In an effort to really understand what has been going on with me and my crazy mind-swings, I have been doing some research into areas that I believe will help me understand myself. I am reading Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, to be followed closely by Social Intelligence by the same author. I got these books originally as research for a book that I have been working on about conflict resolution (not the one that I was excerpting on this blog; that one has been shelved for now). Emotional Intelligence has been really fascinating so far, but I put it down for a few days to research something else that I have been curious about: personality.

I took a personality test years ago. It defined me as INTP. I didn’t know too much about that except that it means that I am definitely introverted. This past weekend I have been reading more into personality tests, what they measure, and what they mean. Did you know that, out of all of the personalities out there, INTP is the rarest? And from what I have read, it is amazing that I really get along with anyone at all since I live in my head so much. That’s an INTP for you.

I have a lot to learn about this whole personality thing, and it may be something that I read some more about. I had my fiance take the personality test so that I could see not only what his personality type is, but how our personalities interact together. I know, I can see how our personalities interact together on a daily basis, but one of the hallmarks of our relationship is that we don’t fight very much, and not over some of the things that other couples fight about. I was wondering if I could figure out why that is by examining our personality profiles side by side to see how our personalities work together. Also, it might be helpful with children in the classroom, too, to be able to see who has what personality and how we can work to make the classroom as comfortable for those personalities as possible. I think it will help me when I am dealing with my extroverted child, as well. She is about as extroverted as I am introverted, and I’m pretty introverted. That has already made for some interesting differences of opinion as far as how we should spend our time, among other things. There are many useful applications of this knowledge, and I can’t wait to share what I learn about it. And about emotional and social intelligence, as well.

What Am I Doing Here?

So a few months ago I told you that I was not going to be posting on this blog anymore; I was moving to a new website named after my company, Project: Preschool. My intent was to export this blog to that website and keep things going there, but somehow it never felt right. I never got that done. I got a few things moved over, but not the entire blog. After much introspection, I decided to continue my blogging efforts here. After all, I have my entire blog history on this site. This is where I started. This is where I can see how I have changed my thinking in the many years since I started.

So what caused all of this? What am I really doing here? Well, being in introspective person that I am, I really started examining where I was going and what I was doing. I haven’t been happy in the classroom in quite a while, which is a shame because that is where my passion has always been. I have been pounding away at the professional development business with a little bit of success, but I’m not sure what kind of gains I have been making with anything because the business is still very new. And exhausting. I mean really, when we get right down to it, starting a new business is one of the most stressful and exhausting things you can do, especially if you have a full-time job as well. And I realized that somehow my priorities had gotten mixed up. Somehow the business became more important than the classroom. I think I know how it happened: when you are an assistant teacher in a classroom, you don’t have quite as much responsibility for the direction of the class or how the classroom is going to look or anything like that. That is where I started with this new job and because I didn’t have the added responsibility of being in charge of the classroom I put the business at priority number one. Of course, it had been a big priority before that, when I was so stressed out at my other job. Anything to get out of there, right? At least, that is how I felt. I wanted to grow the business so that I could stop working for other people and be my own boss. And that is great, if that is what you want to do. But in the middle of all this stress I lost sight of the classroom, which was where my passion started. Heck, that is where my passion is – I just didn’t realize it for all of the stress. The business was always supposed to grow organically from what I was doing in the classroom. The classroom was always supposed to come first. It didn’t end up that way. It ended up with me being completely stressed out about slideshows and presentations and did these people like what I was doing and what am I going to do to market this thing and what product am I going to produce next and how fast can I get it put together.

STRESS!

I hated my job in the classroom. I’m not sure how much I liked the business. Don’t get me wrong; I love doing the workshops. It is all of the work that I have to do to get the workshops and after the workshops that I don’t particularly care for. And I started thinking about what was going on. Why did I hate the classroom? I used to love the classroom! I used to get up every morning fired up to go to work and play with the kids and explore things and do things and I didn’t care about the money. I just wanted to work and play and explore. And I did. And I loved it.

What happened?

I lost sight of what was important. I lost sight of my love. My love for the theories of education and creativity and curiosity were replace by books about how to grow a business. If you are like me, those books aren’t nearly as interesting as the theories of education and creativity and curiosity. I just got rid of a huge pile of those business books this weekend in an attempt to get back to what is important.

I don’t know what is going to happen with the business at this point. I love doing the workshops and I don’t see me stopping at this point, but I don’t see the workshops happening the way that they have been. I don’t see the marketing happening the way that it has been. I see me getting back to what is important to me: the classroom. And I hope that you will stay with me on this journey as I continue to push forward into the things that are truly important.

There Are No Bad Children – Three Tips for Discovering the Intent Behind Children’s Actions

I had to give this blog post some time to marinade in my mind before I wrote it because respect to children is at the heart of everything I do. It is inherent in every move I make, every word I type, every book I read to research topics that I want to teach about. I try to make it every part of every move I make in my classroom. Sometimes I don’t succeed (but no human is ever known for perfection), but I know when I do because I enter into a state of flow that only being in sync with the class as a whole can bring.

I recently gave a workshop about classroom environments. This workshop discusses how to create an environment that will be comfortable and engaging to everyone who is in it for the 8-10 hours a day most teachers and children are there. It takes into account the space as a whole, as well as the materials that are in the space. I love doing this workshop because I love seeing what teachers come up with to make their space more comfortable and engaging.

This night, however, there were a couple of teachers who were stressed about the environment in their classroom, and I’m not referring to the classroom or the materials. These teachers were concerned about the children in their class. I’m not going to get into specifics here because I take a firm stand on confidentiality, not just with children but with teachers as well. Suffice to say that the teachers were concerned about the material that I was teaching them because they felt that no matter what they did, how they changed the environment, what kind of materials they put out for the children, they were going to destroy it.

I had no answers at this workshop. I discussed this class at length with these teachers and came up with nothing, but not for a lack of trying. I discussed stress management techniques, which the teachers said that they were using. But when I tried to get to the heart of the problem – the intent of the children – the answer always came back the same: their intent is to destroy whatever they can get their hands on.

I don’t doubt that some children like to destroy things; disconnecting is one of the schemas that children explore countless times throughout their lives. However, these teachers feel that these children destroy things maliciously, with clear intent on destroying materials that don’t belong to them. And no amount of explaining, questioning, suggesting, or hinting was going to make them feel any differently.

Children feel. We all feel, but children feel much more deeply and much more intensely than adults do. Most of the time they do not have the self-control to handle their emotions and will act out in ways that seem destructive in an effort to gain a sense of control over their lives. Our jobs, as teachers, is to discover what is causing such big emotions in the children we care for. It isn’t safe to have children destroying everything, and it isn’t okay either, but rather than slapping a label on the child (“He’s so bad” or “He’ll destroy everything”), why not take some time to figure out why this child is behaving in this way?

1. Observe – Watch the child throughout the day – his interactions with others will probably be the most important here. If the child comes into the classroom all wound up, observe to try to discover why. Observation is your friend here – if you can see the destructive behavior in the context of their own frustration, it may help you find the root cause.

2. Communicate – Ask the child why they are destroying materials. Find out if they are upset – and if they are upset, find out why. We can’t help children feel safe until we know what it is that is making them feel unsafe, and sometimes we won’t know until we ask. Be sure not to sound judgmental – as if the child were doing anything wrong. If you approach a child as if you were mad or angry, they will either lie to you in defense (so they don’t get in trouble)or not say anything at all.

3. Breathe – Breathing is important, for us and for the child. Do some stress management with the child and breathe with them, especially before you have any kind of conversation with them. Our own stress management is important if we are going to approach the child in a non-judgmental way.

Destructive behaviors can be very frustrating, but with these tips, you should be able to help the child come up with solutions to their own frustrations that will help them be more productive and less destructive.

Perseverance

Today I watched a child working with some boards to create some ramps. It was quite a system that he set up:

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At one point, he had a really hard time balancing the boards on the different cones and objects that he was using for that purpose. I watched him closely to see if he would get frustrated, but he simply kept right on working and adjusting, trying to get everything to fit and stay the way that he wanted it to. When he was done, the results were very impressive.

I have watched children like this for a while. When they are creating and they are really in that creative zone, they don’t seem to get as frustrated as they would if they were being asked to do something or if they aren’t in that zone. They work harder and smarter and really focus on what they are doing. They don’t really give up until they get so frustrated that they have to walk away – and then they walk away. They don’t fuss or cry or scream, they just simply walk away.

The differences in attitude between the children who get in this zone and the ones who don’t are so astounding to me. I experiment with different materials in the classroom all the time to try to find things that allow children to enter into this state of focus. Open-ended materials, loose parts – these are the materials that guide children into flow. They are much better than the plastic toys that most manufacturers market as the best toys for children. Children don’t need fancy toys to create. They simply need real, found materials, some time, and some patience from us. When they have those things, they have super-focus and the perseverance to build amazing structures, all on their own.

“I Don’t Believe You”

So today I got a lot of writing done. I am determined to get a book done; I’ve been talking about it long enough. I have gotten a lot of positive feedback on Facebook for the topic of the book, and that is a good thing. I did start writing a book about six months ago, but what I was writing was way too much for me to start out with. This one is a lot simpler, and it seems to be coming together fairly well so far. I’m under no illusions when it comes to how long it will take me to get this book put together. I know it takes awhile, and I’m sure that I’ll learn a lot along the way. I’m always up for a good challenge, and I’ve always wanted to write a book.

While I was on the playground today I was listening to another teacher discussing a situation with a child. I’m not sure what the child actually did, but the teacher asked the child about it and the child explained what happened, and then the unexplainable happened: the teacher told the child “I don’t believe you.” I couldn’t really believe that I had heard that; I can understand not believing every word that comes out of a child’s mouth, especially if the child feels that there is a threat of punishment involved. However, to actually tell a child that you don’t believe them?

Think about it this way: Imagine that you are telling someone that you trust a story about something that happened, and they say that they don’t believe you. How do you feel then? Inconsequential? Like the story didn’t even matter? Like they don’t even trust you? How do you build a relationship on that? Working with children requires that we build relationships with them with mutual trust on both sides. If a child is telling you something untrue, then that means that they don’t trust you with the truth. And if you tell them that you don’t believe them, that isn’t going to repair the trust issues that are present. It is only going to make it worse.

I try really hard to make sure that there aren’t these trust issues in my classroom. I don’t use punishment at all. We talk through things until we figure out what happened and we figure out solutions to problems. I try to approach situations with as little judgment as possible so that children feel safe telling me the truth. Lying comes from fear, usually from fear of punishment. If you take away the fear of punishment then lying stops.

So how do you make sure that children know right from wrong without punishment? That is a question that I always get asked, and I just answered while writing my book today. Maybe my next post will be an excerpt.

Classroom Discipline: Taking Toys

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During one of my more recent workshops we were discussing observation and what to do if there is a conflict in the classroom. “If we don’t know who had a toy first, and two kids are fighting over it,” said a teacher, “its okay to take the toy and put it up, right?”

Why We Shouldn’t Take Toys

It is almost a reflex that we have, as teachers: if children are fighting over a toy, we put the toy up and give the children a chance to cool off, usually saying something like, “If you can’t play with the toy without fighting over it, then you won’t be able to play with it.” The problem with using this method is that most tug-of-wards over toys happen because children don’t know the words to use to express what they want, so they try to take. If we are simply taking the toy away and moving the children to another activity, they aren’t learning the words that they need in order to prevent a tug-of-war from happening again. Children need to learn how to stand up for themselves and say “NO” to another child that is trying to take their work, or even trying to harm them in some way. This teaches assertiveness, a key skill that children need that will enable them to stand up to bullying and other threatening behaviors later in life. The ability to be assertive also boosts self-esteem as children learn how to stand up for themselves, their desires, and their needs.

What We Should Do Instead

When children are involved in a tug-of-war over a toy, we should first try to figure out who had the toy first. Teachers should always try to know who had what in the classroom so that they can easily solve these kinds of issues. Usually when I am doing a workshop, the words “Observation is SO important in the classroom” leave my lips at least once during the workshop. This is a time when observation is so important. It is important that we observe enough to know who has what, because we are better able to help children solve their social problems the more we know about the situation. Once we know who had the toy first, we can coach that child to tell the other child “NO” or “I don’t like it” if they are a younger child (1-3 years old). If they are older, we can teach them to use even more words: “I don’t like it when you take my toy. Please give it back.” Usually, the words are enough for the offender to give back the toy.

Our job during these altercations is not to hand down a sentence or an ultimatum; when we take toys and put them up, that is what we are doing. Our job is to coach the children to the solution. We have to back up the child that had the toy first by telling the offender, “He didn’t like it when you took his toy. You can ask him if you can use it when he is done with it.” This teaches the child the words to use if they want something that someone else has, and teaches him how to respect the rights of the child that has the toy. For younger children, we can simply say, “He is playing with this toy right now. Let’s do _________ until he is done with it.” This beginning step shows the younger child how to respect the rights of others, and helps them ease into an alternative while they are waiting for their turn.

But I Already Told You, I Don’t Know Who Had The Toy!

Okay, you really don’t know who had the toy, and this can be a real problem for teachers of younger children who can’t tell you who had the toy first. One thing that I have found through trying to solve this problem in my own classroom is that the child who had the toy first will be the most upset when it is taken. It is almost akin to the story of the Wisdom of King Solomon. When I worked with younger children and there was a tug-of-war, I would take the toy just to end the tug-of-war. Usually one child would move away and the other child would become more upset. I would give the toy back to the child that was upset.

Why Do You Do This?

Any time you take something away from a child, it triggers a fight-or-flight response. The child does not feel safe any longer and reacts to this (hostile, in their minds) takeover by becoming upset. Different children can manifest this response in different ways, from crying to an all-out tantrum. Because we want children to feel safe and loved at preschool, we need to do anything we can to minimize the fight-or-flight response and foster connections and relationships with the child instead. This is one of the reasons why I say that it is SO important to be observant and know what is going on in the classroom as much as you possibly can. The more you know, the more you can do to help children who are involved in tricky social situations like this.

Do You Have Any Questions About How To Handle Other Classroom Situations?

If you do, just post your questions in the comments section below and I will try to feature them in an upcoming blog post!

What Are They Trying to Say?

Today was a big day in our classroom. We have been incubating eggs for about three weeks, and over the weekend several of the eggs hatched. Today was the day that the children got to meet the chicks.

Incubator with thirty eggs

Incubator with thirty eggs

We had talked to the children about chicks and birds and eggs a little bit, but there wasn’t a whole lot of interest in it. After all, when you look at eggs for twenty-one days, they really don’t do much. There isn’t a lot to get excited about. But when they hatch – oh, when they hatch!

We decided to make a project out of it. We had the children draw pictures of what they thought the chicks were going to look like before we brought the chicks in for them to meet. The pictures were very interesting, but even more interesting were the quotes. One of the things that I usually do when I have children draw pictures of learning opportunities is ask them to tell me about their pictures, and I write down what they say. It gives me a different perspective – the children’s perspective – when it comes to where the project should go and what topics we should explore.

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The first chick

I usually don’t take a lot of time to look at the quotes and really check them out, but this time was different. I’m not sure if it was all of the work that we had already put into this budding project, or the fact that this time I really wanted to try to do this right, but I really took the time to notice where each child was coming from and what they were trying to explore through their pictures. It was amazing. Some children were focused on gender and how to tell if the chick was a boy or a girl. Some were focused on how the chick would move or fly around. Some were focused on the different parts of the bird. There were many different areas of focus, and each one was worthy of its own place in the life of our project. It was amazing to slow down and really look at what the children were trying to say.

I’ve said this a lot lately, but it becomes increasingly true every time I do something involving my classroom: slow down and look. Listen. Find out what the children are saying through everything that they do. Everything that children do has purpose and meaning, but sometimes we get so involved in teaching that we don’t slow down and listen to them. What are they trying to tell us? What are they trying to teach us? Today, they taught me that if I just slow down enough, I can hear wonderful things – not just in their words, but in their pictures as well. After all, children do have a hundred languages.