Forming Relationships With Children

In my last two posts (here and here) I have been contemplating forming relationships with children and why it is important. Today I want to talk about how to form those relationships with children.

It all started when I went crazy with planning activities for children on the night after my first day at my new job. I felt crazy doing it, and when I talked to the director about my wild night of planning, she told me that I need to slow down and concentrate on forming relationships with the children. As I began to reflect on why relationships are important, I realized that relationships are formed through doing things with others.

Think about it. When we want to begin a new relationship with someone, we begin doing things with them. We try eating out together to discover what we have in common when it comes to our tastes for food. We do other activities together to discover what we have in common as far as our interests go. And we talk to each other. A lot.

As I was thinking about the processes that we go through to begin new relationships, I realized that I wasn’t too far off the mark. Sure, I didn’t know  what the children are interested in, but I was creating a foundation for finding out. I was making a plan for activities that we could do together to find out more about each other. I didn’t put any of the plan in motion, but I have had several opportunities to find out what some of the children like, and have been able to base the beginning of a relationship on that. For example, gardening is a big part of the school community where I work now, and I have found out which children are interested in gardening and which aren’t. I have even done some gardening with some of them. I have dug up grub worms with some of the children, and we learned more about the life cycle of a Japanese beetle through this activity. Some of the children are wildly interested in airplanes, so we have done a couple of small activities having to do with airplanes. The lead teacher has given me the go-ahead to try to plan a transportation project for the beginning of the year. I have found that a few of the boys are passionate about superheroes, and have already seen some of the negative effects of that passion.

The children and I have even worked on communication. I have talked to the children a lot about their interests, their families, and school life. But we have all practiced communication that helps to heal broken relationships and repair damage done by our actions. These are important lessons that all children should learn, because the skills needed to communicate through relationship issues is a life skill that all people need. Letting people know when what they are doing hurts in some way, and being able to empathize, apologize, and make the situation better is important to every relationship that we have in our life. As teachers, it is important that we are not only teaching these skills to children, but using them ourselves throughout the day as we interact with them. Through these interactions trust is built and relationships grow. Children come to see teachers as not just a disciplinarian or someone who is there to teach them things, but as someone they can talk to and share ideas with, who will take their ideas seriously and help them grow those ideas into something meaningful and fun.

That is what the teacher-student relationship is all about.

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Motivation, Play, and Observation

As we have seen in the past few posts, one of the keys to motivation is the welling up inside us of a desire to achieve a certain goal. That was the point of the last post, in which I described my frustration with school. In a classroom, the goals can come from the teacher or from the student. It is the job of the teacher to use observation to discover the desires of the students and develop goals to achieve based on those desires.

This morning I have been doing a little more research into emergent curriculum – research that I have been wanting to do for a while but have not really found the time to do. Because this blog has taken the direction that it has – into the realm of creativity, motivation, and interest – concepts of emergent curriculum are highly relevant.

The concept that I want to address today is that of play. As I pointed out in yesterday’s post, children really don’t need a lot of motivation to play. They do it automatically. When we observe children during their play, we find that they explore many different concepts and ideas during their play. They explore building, going to the doctor, having a birthday party, going to the movies, a restaurant, or any of the other experiences that have been memorable to them. Our job, as teachers, is to pick out the themes of their play and use those themes to develop activities and lessons that can extend their learning through this play into other areas.

A key point about using play to develop learning activities is to make sure that children have enough time to dive deep into their play. Remember that some key points about allowing children to be creative include time, tools, and tolerance. In the book Emergent Curriculum in Early Childhood Settings: From Theory to Practice, Susan Stacey writes:

Emergent curriculum places extremely high value on play as a generator for curriculum. Play provides an opportunity for children’s exploration, problem solving, incubation and development of big ideas, and therefore, learning. It also provides the teacher, as researcher, a prime opportunity to watch and listen carefully in order to generate further understanding of the individual child. All of which means that for children to fully develop their ideas and for the teachers to watch, interact, and write notes, a generous amount of time must be allotted to play.

While children are playing, it is important to write notes about observations that are made and responses that are given as teachers interact to clarify the child’s understanding of what they are doing. This process is talked about more in-depth by Stacey, who gives a few examples of interactions between children and teachers and the way that teachers have used their observations. One key feature about using observations is communication between teachers in the classroom. Teachers should be in sync about the direction they want to take an interest of the children. An example that Stacey gives is of a girl creating a face with eyes made out of buttons. The girl explains that when the buttons are covered with tape, the eyes can’t see. There were several different directions that teachers could have taken this observation, including how the body works, how eyes work, etc. They decided to focus on perspective taking, not just visually, but socially and emotionally as well. The teachers then came up with environment modifications and activities that could be done to extend thinking about perspective taking.

Doing observations and using them to extend ideas such as this are motivating to the teacher and to the student. The teacher gets the opportunity to develop learning activities in the context of what the child is already showing an interest in, which means that the teacher gets the opportunity to think creatively about the direction that the classroom is going. The child is motivated because their own interests and ideas are being used to stimulate learning in the classroom – and they get to play. As teachers, we should all know how motivating it is for children when we become involved in their play. As teachers interact with students, children gather around and play seems to take on a life of its own. Asking children open-ended questions during these times of interaction gives the teacher an unending spring of information with which to plan learning experiences, and keeps the classroom alive.