Sometimes in my classroom I feel guilty. I feel guilty because, while the majority of my colleagues plan circle time activities and implement them, or do small group activities with the children in their class, I simply watch children. In fact, I have been known to introduce a small group activity, model how it should be done, stick around for moral support, and then walk away – to watch. This technique has served me well for many years, actually, because it allows me a chance to see a child’s thinking without my interference or manipulation. I have watched children use materials in unique, surprising ways. I have listened to conversations that have opened my eyes about where a child is coming from. But most importantly, I have observed children in the throes of social situations to see how they handle them.
This last example has driven co-teachers of mine bonkers. They can see that I see that there is a dispute, but I am doing nothing to stop it. I am simply watching and listening to a couple of very young children attempt to work out their differences. Of course, if things start getting physical, then I step in to help resolve the issue. But until then, I usually just sit back, watch, and listen. The reason for this is that I can learn a lot about how the children settle social disputes and what I need to teach them in order to make it easier for them to handle disputes on their own.
A lot of times, I watch to understand why a child behaves a certain way. Especially with young children, physical actions against other children can be a sign that a child does not have the language necessary to deal with social situations, be they positive or negative. I have had a few children who have gone through my classroom who have not known the language to use to invite themselves to play with another child, or have lacked the self-confidence to approach other children. In most cases, this has manifest as physical aggression against the other child. There has been more than one case where I have had to shadow and watch a child, simply to discover intent.
The important thing to realize is that children have intent. They do not do something just to do it. They act on their environment in order to figure out how it works, but they do not come into this world already knowing how to deal with other people. And as adults, we all know how complicated it is to deal with other people sometimes. We have had years of practice to hone our skills of language and social maneuvering. Young children have not had time to develop the language or the knowledge needed to handle social situations. It is our job, as teachers, to observe them as they interact with their peers so that we can learn what skills and language need to be taught.
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