Saturday, December 31, 2011

What habits are you trying to break?

In the spirit of new year resolutions, I thought I'd share a fun conversation I had with the children the other day about "bad habits."

One little guy woke up from his nap with dried blood around his nose - it was clear that he had been repeatedly picking his nose as he slept. This was a "hot topic" for this little guy. His family had asked me to encourage him in breaking this habit and, most importantly, he himself had been working very hard not to pick his nose, saying to me "I'm not a little kid anymore!" He was newly four and ready to take on the world, but, alas, while napping, that automatic response had come back. The little guy was embarrassed and frustrated, and somewhat defeated. (Who knew bad habits could continue subliminally while sleeping? Yikes!)

I hugged him close to me and gently wiped away the dried blood, trying to soothe and encourage. His classmates' eyes were on the little guy and his bloody face.

I asked, "Do any of you have bad habits? Things that you do that you wish you could stop? For example, I bite my fingernails sometimes, even though I know I should not. That's a bad habit."

Three children exclaimed, all at once, "Me, too! I do that!"

A girl added, "Sometimes I bite my toes."

Another, "Sometimes I pick my nail polish."

A boy, "Sometimes I pick my nose."
A girl, "Yes, sometimes I pick my nose."
Another boy, "Sometimes I pick my nose and if blood comes out it scares me."

A girl, "I fight over my brother."

Another boy concluded, "I'm trying to stop swimming lessons."

This last comment made me chuckle! Young children discerning the semantics of language - bad habits you want to stop doing? Or things you just don't do anymore?

I believe this simple discussion was another small step in cultivating empathy in my classroom, for children to understand one another a little better. I remember Dan Hodgins's wisdom:

"Watch out for ways in which we turn 'developmental issues' into 'moral issues' - and this is so unnecessary. It is developmentally in the norm to:
- pick your nose
- push and shove
- not listen
- take toys.
How much better to determine if it is really a problem, and then to simply redirect the child to the appropriate thing to do, without the moralizing overtone."

It is important not to over-moralize with children, but to help them set their own goals for themselves. We need to recognize certain behaviors as developmentally normal, and, also, to remember our own inability - as adults - to follow through on what we know better. Humans are frail! Children are tender. Let's be respectful in our teaching.

I love these unexpected conversations with children. They are true gifts. I am reminded how pleasurable teaching can be when I allow and cultivate these surprise moments of learning.

2011 was an excellent year for me, in early childhood education. I hope it has been a great year for you, as well. My top five experiences:

- mentoring four beginning early childhood teachers in D.C. public schools, August 2010 through June 2011, encouraging them to teach from their heart, to experience the true joy of teaching.
- participating in the Bev Bos conference this past July 2011, surrounded by like-minded educators, learning and reaffirming many great ideas for my preschool classroom.
- July 2011 on - opening and working at the Inspired Teaching Demonstration Charter School, my first foray into teaching full-time in a public school setting, working alongside passionate educators.
- working alongside a beginning teacher, grooming him to lead his own preschool classroom next year, one which will embrace the child-centered, exploratory learning that is so right for these early learners.
- being in relationship with so many wonderful children and their families.

I am so lucky that most of these positive experiences will continue in 2012! Happy New Year!

1 comment:

  1. Happy New Year Maureen!
    I adore this post. Teachers who work with young children can sometimes over-moralize, and the children can feel this. My favorite words " remember our own inability - as adults - to follow through on what we know better. Humans are frail! Children are tender." Thank you for this beautiful reminder.