A full day in the classroom with young children holds a lot of ups and downs. In all the routines there are to get through, you can count on a lot of laughs, smiles, sighs, and a few moments where you might even want to cry (“I have to pick this up AGAIN!?”). Your heart will be warmed, but your patience will be tested. You leave feeling like you gave a lot, but also like you got a lot back. Go home, eat dinner, try to stop thinking about your students long enough to fall asleep. Let’s do it again tomorrow!
As we get into the school year and the routines begin to feel more predictable, it’s easy to start wanting to rush through the more tedious parts of the day. Serving snack, taking children to the restroom, and helping kids get their shoes and jackets on to head outside can take up big chunks of the day which some teachers may feel is a waste of potential learning time. Yet these routines can prove a powerful opportunity when teachers are able to slow down and focus on the development of self-regulation skills.
Preschool is all about learning to “do life.” Being able to navigate feeding, toileting and dressing oneself is a prerequisite for a successful elementary experience and beyond. Although children learn these skills first in the context of their home, they need a chance to practice them in the much more stimulating group setting if they are to be competent in navigating their future school experiences. Ensuring that these routines and their accompanying skills are a core part of the curriculum will lead children to greater competence in managing their bodies and their emotions.
It does prove difficult to take the time for each child in an entire class to meet their own needs. In the rush of wanting to make it to lunch on time, or ensure that allotted times in shared spaces are taken advantage of, it is all too easy to want to rush children through these precious practice moments. As a preschool teacher I often caught myself thinking, “We just need to get through this transition as fast as we can!” and shoving shoes on kids feet, or lifting them down from the hand-washing stool to hurry them along towards drying so that the next one in line can get started
Looking back at those moments, I wish that I would have taken the extra time to have each child practice doing it for themselves. In my hurry I believe I may have been unconsciously imparting a message that I did not see them as capable or value their efforts. Rushing children through routines implies that sticking to the schedule is more important than letting them practice doing it for themselves. It robs them of the opportunity to practice the things they see adults doing and want so desperately to learn to do for themselves. It steals their chance to navigate their way around their peers and figure out how to authentically share resources. Ultimately, stepping in too soon to solve children’s problems for them diminishes the natural lessons of cause and effect.
When adults do things for children that they could probably do for themselves, they figure that there will be time to learn it later. “They will have plenty of other opportunities to practice this skill. We just don’t have time right now. We’re in a hurry.” But we live most of our lives in a hurry, and it’s easy to let the days quickly slip by. We have to be conscious of the patterns we set and know that every single opportunity for practice counts. Keep in mind the trajectory of where your students are headed and how the skills they are practicing each day will create the story of their life. Don’t forget to slow down and be in the moment with your students as much as you can.
The poem by Dorothy Law Nolte, Ph.D., says it best:
Children Live What They Learn
If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.
If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.
Copyright © 1972 by Dorothy Law Nolte