Monday, June 28, 2010

What about 2 year old energy?

One of my friends - a teacher of 2 year olds - recently asked me, exhaustedly, what to do about a little 28 month old child in her class who couldn't keep his hands to himself. He's a busy, busy, busy little guy in a small physical space with nine children. When he gets too close to classmates, he swats at them, moves them out of his way, and continues bustling by. "What would you do with this little guy, Maureen?"

Well, she posed that question wrong! I answered with my Mom voice, not my teacher voice - "What would I do? Oh, I'd throw him into my jogging stroller and we'd go down to Sligo Creek; after I finished a quick run, I'd let him out to explore the creek. We'd pick up rocks and toss them in the water, we'd look for bugs and ducks. There are beautiful herons nesting there now - we'd have to check those out!"

Because my friend is responsible for nine children - not just one child - my response was not really helpful. But, I believe the underlying message is important - we need to be aware of how we define "educational" success with two year old children.

Two year olds - think about it - they are really, really young! We're talking 24 -36 months of age only. And two year olds have the added developmental stage of being "all about me" - meaning, the concept of sharing and playing WITH others is simply not present. They are not only new to sharing - it's another language that their brains aren't yet open to learning.

Teachers of twos work with a range of abilities and personalities - the "running roughshods" to the "lap sitters" - and this range of children play parallel to one another not together. Teachers of "running roughshods", or "frisky" two year olds, are forced to stretch themselves to find ways to keep everyone safe and happy. These teachers find ways to shadow these little ones a little more closely, to spread out the adult staff in their room so that there are many hands and eyes.

That, I think, is the educational goal of a twos class:
Helping children feel safe and happy among others, and, therefore, cultivating the very first seeds of love of learning.

It is NOT about the ABCs.

The ideal two year old classroom is large enough for children to explore and play individually, on their own. Additionally, the ideal classroom has a very small child to adult ratio - providing enough loving adult presence to softly remind, guide and model correct behavior, and has non-pressured "circle times" that provide a positive opportunity to learn how to gather and work together - to be a community.

That's why the best classrooms have activities that echo some of the fun, simple, open-ended fun you might have with a child at home, including but by no means limited to:

- Digging in the dirt (or playing in sand and water at a sensory table),
- Playing with water (washing baby dolls and other toys),
- Squishing and rolling playdough,
- Helping with cooking (pouring, stirring, mixing),
- Dancing, moving, jumping to music,
- Listening to books and stories, and
- Plenty of outside play that lets you run, stretch, jump, and swing at your own pace.

It is a luxury to be at home with your two year old. However, for many families this is simply not feasible. Therefore, it is essential that our learning spaces for these little ones still reflect some of that luxury of being at home - from a child's perspective:

the freedom (and room) to roam from activity to activity, and
the ability to choose your own fun, with a loving adult following your lead.

And teachers who provide these busy little folks with a happy and safe environment should know their job is well done!

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