Along with the dark clouds that have hung over our city, dumping snow and ice upon us each winter week - a little cloud seemed to hang over our classroom for a few days recently, bringing an unusual amount of meanness. Over the course of several days Mrs. Lee and I overheard much bickering and unkind words thrown back and forth by some of the children in class. I was shocked. Mrs. Lee was shocked. We both wondered what to do.
I left school on Monday wondering where I went wrong as a teacher. The social emotional development of a child is so vital in pre-k, in part because there is no other time after pre-k when it will be addressed so directly or indirectly in most school settings. Once children find themselves in kindergarten and beyond there are rigorous academic pressures and as sad as it is to say, social emotional development becomes more of an afterthought. Children are expected to come to school at that point knowing how to share, take turns, and use their words to express their feelings, needs, and ideas.
We make it an important part of the curriculum...or so I thought to focus on these things. Building a sense of community with our rituals, our whole group meetings, read alouds, and daily interactions was enough (I thought). This obviously could not be the case though, or I wouldn't overhear children using hurtful words among other things. So I went home to do some soul searching and some blog reading, wouldn't you know I came across a blog post that spoke to the issue of social emotional development directly by Teacher Tom and here it is. It was the shot of motivation I needed.
I thought about how we could tie compliments into our daily routine naturally. I decided that after our work in centers, when we rejoin on the rug to share our experience and work, would be a fitting time to practice thinking about others. On this day children made pretend self-portraits, which lent itself nicely to complimenting the work of one another. Some children were naturals right off the bat and others seemed hesitant but I think it was a good beginning practice in thinking about others. I asked each child how they felt after receiving a compliment from a friend and they would inevitably grin and say happy. That's really what it's all about. Realizing that, as Teacher Tom says our words are powerful and we can use our words to make others feel good.
Here are some of the compliments below, a great beginning if you ask me.
I really like that you have so many eyes.
I like the blue on your face.
I like your black hair.
The children seem to be taking to compliments and adding it to their repertoire. Today when we came together to share our experience in centers and I made a call for compliments the children surprised me, making their own decision whether to ask a question or give a compliment and they did both in a way that was meaningful and real.
In addition to the compliments Mrs. Lee and I are being vigilant in honing our listening skills, insuring that we deal with any beginnings of conflict in the moment. Insuring that each child leaves our class this year with the tools to solve problems as they arise in the world (as they always do) and with their peers is an imperative.
I've been hearing kind words and witnessing helping hands a lot in the last two days. We just have to remember, as adults, to keep this at the forefront of our thoughts each day. Parents, if you would like any reading material regarding social emotional development of your child, let me know I have a lot and can point you in the direction of great online resources as well. As with all areas of a child's healthy development this needs to be supported at home and at school.