Thursday, March 11, 2010

What about frisky friends, pt. 2

I suspect this blog will have many, many entries about "frisky friends" - it is a subject that is dear to my heart.

My interest in frisky friends and learning differences in children goes way back – probably back to my own childhood, and watching one of my brothers get reprimanded time and again for knocking the drinks over at the dinner table, tripping over things, breaking things by accident, running through the house. And then I had my own children, three boys and many energetic days together. The next thing I knew, I was teaching preschoolers - trying to “contain” these “frisky friends” in my classroom, especially during circle time.

How are you supposed to teach?

It is not for the faint of heart!

It is developmentally reasonable for a child between the ages of 24 - 36 months of age:

• to have limited speech capability (words/vocabulary that are just beginning)
• to have a short attention span, moving from one thing to another, interested in many things
• to be very, very active – running, climbing, jumping, moving constantly.
• to be only interested in his/her toys, actions, desires - to appear not to “see others”
• to have no clue how to share

All of the above are very likely if the child is a kinesthetic, tactile learner - what I refer to as a "frisky friend." If this child is in your 2 or 3 year old class, odds are he/she is not going to “settle down” and become a bookworm during this school year. You will learn to treasure those rare moments of calm.

You have to provide the child a way to be physical, in your classroom, safely.

And there are two basic teaching objectives before any real "academics" can be taught to a frisky friend:

- to help the child to learn to follow routines, to follow appropriate boundaries/limits, and thus succeed at school
- to help the child consider others, to make friends, and develop social skills

Here's the simple truth:

Because this is an active, busy, intense, "hard-to-land" kind of child, the best way to help him learn routines and consideration of others is to be active, busy, dramatic, visual, physical, and fun in your teaching.

At the NAEYC Conference in Washington, D.C. this past November, I had the pleasure of attending “Why Can’t He Be Still?” by Christy Isbell, a pediatric occupational therapist with a Phd in Child Development. This insightful workshop was about the sensory processing disorder of “vestibular seekers” - children who seek and need lots of movement in order to learn. Basic motto to remember: you’ve got to move to learn. This is true of typically-learning preschoolers, but all the more for these little ones. In fact, it’s true for us adults: an oxygenated brain works better – it is more efficient, more functional. This workshop gave lots of ideas for combining learning with movement; here are some:

• plan a movement break for every 25 minutes in your day (walk, jump up & down, bounce on a large exercise ball, jump on a mini-trampoline)
• move your way through transitions; for example, “today is bear day, everywhere we go, we will move like a bear.”
• to relax the body before learning/listening time, take deep cleansing breaths (additionally, we learned how to breathe like a bunny, a snake, and an elephant)
• let the child sit on a cushion on a chair at a table – this allows them to wiggle a bit or, consider a rocking chair, or sitting on a large exercise ball. (Follow up thought – is your objective for the child to sit still or to do the activity?)

I particularly loved Christy Isbell's reference to some children being like "SUVs" (they run out of gas easily and need to be re-fueled) whereas others are "Hybrids" (seem to go with the flow, quietly and efficiently).

Bottom line: we are all different; children have different learning styles; different children need different approaches, to help them learn and focus. As teachers, we have to respect all the different ways of learning in our class.

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