YOUNG CHILDREN AS MENTORS

 

“But I don’t knooooow the marriage dance,” the 3 year old lamented, interrupting the ”wedding” in the dramatic play area. “Now I can’t get married!”

The wedding party stood frozen. What would happen next?  I continued to observe as the “groom” stepped forward saying, “It’s easy. I’ll teach you.” He gently took her hand.

She began to follow his lead and soon they were co-creating their dance. The others smiled and went back to work, laying down a paper aisle for the reunited couple.

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Children often naturally mentor each other. We, their teachers and parents, can support and encourage them by noticing.

I witnessed a more-hesitant child focusing on a very skilled classmate. The girl was designing a process for making a stuffy. When the shyer child was asked if he’d like to make one, he shook his head vigorously.

“But I don’t know how,” he qualified. I waited to see if he’d ask or if someone would volunteer to help him. He glanced at the others who were all attending to their own work, but seemed unable to ask for help.

I paused, and then asked the girl, “When you’re finished, would you please teach your friend what you’ve discovered? He’d like to make a stuffy, too.”

She agreed, and with great patience and generosity, mentored him. He was then able to join her in celebration, joyfully parading their stuffies around the room, singing with glee.

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As I was writing this blog, two alumni appeared at the cafe. I asked the siblings if they had ever taught each other. They each nodded. The older brother then demonstrated by placing a green clown nose over his own.  He just happened to be carrying it in his pocket after finishing a week of clowning camp!  I love synchronicity!

From that same deep pocket, he withdrew a pack of cards. He then mentored his sister through clowning tricks he had just mastered.

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GUIDELINES FOR TEACHERS:

  • NOTICING:
    • “Catch them doing good” is what I first heard it called, while I was teaching language through the arts in a public elementary school.
    • Call gentle attention to a behavior we value through oral appreciation of what we have observed.

“I noticed that when your friend felt sad because she didn’t know the dance you taught her. Now she, too, knows how.”

  • INCLUSION:
    • Partnering children of different practical or social skill levels encourages scaffolding and greater participation. It contributes to an inclusive environment.
    • When a child asks for help, encourage a child who has mastered that skill to be a teacher. “You were able to figure that out. Can you now teach your friend what you’ve learned?”

As teachers and parents we have ongoing daily opportunities to create a more-peaceful and integrated classroom, family and community.

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Crossing the Gender Line

How often do we hear the proclamations by our children: “That’s a boy’s color?” “Those are for girls!”

Beyond culture and environment, art and play can provide an opportunity for everyone to try on different materials and roles.

As a specialist in puppetry and the expressive arts, I have been exploring with my colleagues how to stretch the black-and-white thinking of young children.
Puppet improvisations are one means of exploration. The children are presented with a problem or inquiry through enactment by puppets. They then solve or explore the problem collectively.

Recently we discussed whether there are fixed boy and girl colors. Typically blue is for boys, and pink is for girls. We asked the children to begin questioning whether these are facts or personal preferences.

One child, previously adamant about the ‘rules’ of gender regarding colors, surprised us with his flexibility. When awareness was brought to a puppetry circle about how children may feel about being limited or mocked for their choices, he was the one to provide a solution.

“Let’s call them everyone’s colors. Then everyone can choose what they like.” The group agreed. And for the moment, within the safety of our group circle, there was agreement.

As teachers and parents, we can model, facilitate and help diminish the mocking peer voices and the conflict that is created internally and between our children regarding gender roles and rules.

Recently, a simple idea surfaced while observing a group of 5-year-old boys making airplanes with colored craft sticks. I brought gems and sparkly pipe cleaners over to their table.

“Anybody interested in decorating their planes?” I asked. Then I walked away to observe from a distance.

Usually they would take two colored sticks, connect them with a piece of colored masking tape and feel complete. The rest of the time was then spent flying the planes.

Being offered but not encouraged to add to their planes, I watched with interest as one boy considered the materials that were very tempting to the girls. Slowly he began peeling the gems off their backing and adding them to his plane. This was followed by carefully curling the pipe cleaners around the body and wings with great focus.

The other boys did not follow his lead. However, I noticed that the next time the group made their planes, this same leader gathered the jewels from where the girls had moved them. He, again, used them to decorate his plane.

Soon after, other boys, and soon girls, began building a fleet of very shiny and sparkly airplanes.

Classroom Guidelines for School and Home:

Set up a table with colored craft sticks, colored masking tape, scissors, markers or oil pastels. (Be sure to include pink, blue and purple as choices.)

Observe what it is that the children are constructing. Listen for what is being expressed if a child’s preference crosses the ‘gender line.’ Be available for facilitating inquiry. Asking such questions as:
· Are there any girls here who love blue? Does anyone know a girl who likes blue? Is that true all the time?
· What about boys who love pink and purple? Does anyone know a boy who likes pink?

Name what was discovered by restating it for the children. “Oh, so there are some girls who do like blue and boys who like pink. Do you think we can choose the colors we like whether or not they are called boy colors or girl colors?”

 · Once the construction is under way, bring over additional materials such as stick-on gems, shiny pipe cleaners, ribbons and trim.

Again, be available for what surfaces, gently expanding their capacities to be critical thinkers.

Creating an environment of curiosity and exploration is a way of offering children alternatives while allowing them to make their own wise choices.

Product Recommendations from Discount School Supply®:
Jumbo Colored Wood Craft Sticks – 500 pieces (CJUMBO)
Peel and Stick Gems – 442 pieces (GEMS)
1/2″ Colored Masking Tape – set of 10 rolls (CLRMSET)
Colorations® Blunt Tip Scissors (CBS)
Sparkle Stems (PSPAR)
Colorations® Super Washable Chubby Markers – set of 200 (CHBST)
Colorations® Outstanding Oil Pastels – set of 336 (COPACK)
Assorted Ribbon Remnants (RIBBONS)