Author Tyler Gonzalez
Recently I was able to enjoy the experience of standing in the ocean. For those of us in Wyoming, it’s a pretty exciting thing to feel the warm water and sand on our skin. As I was standing in the water, I could feel the current pulling me sideways. As I started to walk back to the beach, I noticed how difficult it was. The more I tried to continue straight ahead, the more difficult it became to return to shore. Only until I started moving with the current, gently sliding forward while also moving in the same direction as the water, was I able to make progress towards the shore.
How many times in the classroom are you fighting the current of your students’ learning interests? Forcing yourself forward into the goals and expectations you have set only to feel like you’ve made no progress? What would happen if we collaborated with children and their interests instead? Dancing forward with our goals and sideways with theirs. What would our classroom look like?
NAEYC’s new Position Statement on Developmentally Appropriate Practice tells us:
“...the more that the adult directs an activity or interaction, the less likely it will be perceived as play by the child. When planning learning environments and activities, educators may find it helpful to consider a continuum ranging from children’s self-directed play to direct instruction. Neither end of the continuum is effective by itself in creating a high-quality early childhood program.” (p. 9)
You see, we have to maintain the intricate balance of our agenda and the children’s.
There are times when the tide comes in our favor and huge learning bursts happen according to plan. Then, there are times when the tide is low. Nothing seems to be going right, and you can’t gain the children’s interest. These are times when it’s most important to notice children’s interests. What are they asking about? What are you noticing in their free play? How can you connect their home life with their school life? When we gain insights into these questions, we can begin the dance again.
When we can provide learning experiences for children that connect with what’s going on in their life, focus on their strengths and interests, and give children ample opportunity to explore, we create high-quality learning. This truly sets young children up for success as lifelong learners.