Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Magic in "YES" - Part 1

Are you ready to join me on a journey?  This journey is always evolving, always magical and always a learning experience.  This journey is a "yes" journey. 

Let me take you back a few years… I was a preschool teacher that saw control as the only way to run an early childhood program.  I went to class already feeling stressed and left even more stressed.  There was so much to manage.  I had to manage the way the children moved from center to center.  I managed the way they stood in line and the way they sat at circle time.  I managed the way that children created their “art” projects and the way they went down the slide.    I managed the way children spent their “free choice” time – it wasn’t really free and there wasn’t a lot of choice.  Children were showing me that they needed freedom to make choices but I understood it as misbehavior.

Why was I teaching this way?  I was teaching from the example of others.  I was taking my experience teaching in the early elementary grade levels and trying to bring those experiences down to the preschool level.  I was under the impression that children needed constant, teacher directed reinforcement of letters and numbers, rhyming and patterning and counting so I could “get them ready for Kindergarten” (those are my five most despised words now  -  that is a can of worms for another blog post).

My life was about to change in a BIG way.

I went to a conference where Lisa “Ooey Gooey” Murphy was the keynote speaker.  IT WAS LIFE CHANGING.  I was only in my second year of teaching preschool at the time.  I look back and thank God that I was fortunate enough to listen to her speak about PLAY that early in my preschool teaching career.  I often wonder where I would be had I not heard Lisa speak.  Soon after I was introduced to Jeff Johnson and Denita Dinger and their book, Let Them Play.  I was lucky enough to go to one of their Let Them Play workshops and that is when I knew, without a doubt, that I was doing things all wrong.

Fast forward…  I am now the founder, director, and lead teacher of a nature preschool that is child led and play based.  I am working hard at taking off my “old teacher” hat.  One of the ways that I let go of that “old teacher” is by finding ways to say YES!

During the first month of school, a preschool child was walking past two cube bookshelves that had been pushed together.  The shelves had been emptied and the space on the shelves looked like an inviting place for this child to crawl.  He crawled in with a big smile on his face.  Without even thinking, I heard myself say, “The shelves are not for crawling on.  Please don’t do that.”  He crawled out immediately and walked away with his shoulders a little lower.  I was immediately sick to my stomach.  He was happy, engaged, playing creatively in his own right and I took it all away from him.  But why?  Shelves are for toys, not kids, right?  Wrong.  I thought about what may have happened had I not interrupted him.  Would he have gotten hurt?  Would others have gotten hurt?  Would our shelves be damaged from a 34 pound child climbing on them?  NO!  That was my moment.  My A-HA moment.  It felt like Jeff Johnson was screaming at me from Iowa!  This was THE moment that I became a YES teacher!

There are many great things that happen when you can let go of managing and control and say YES. About a month later, some children were throwing bean bags into a busy space in the indoor classroom.  I observed, thought about how to say YES to this particular situation, analyzed the room and came up with an option to present to the bean bag throwers.

“Caden and Rogan?  I think it is great that you want to throw bean bags but the place where you are throwing them maybe isn’t the best place to throw something.  Children are running through and they could get hurt.  If you would like to continue throwing them, move over to the back door and you can try to hit the door with them!”

They were happy to move and by giving them a target, it gave them a renewed goal.  A few other children heard our interaction and the new plan presented and they decided they wanted to have a go at throwing the bean bags at the back door too.  They happily threw the bean bags at the door for about 10 minutes – organizing themselves into a line and making adjustments to make sure that when they went to pick up their thrown bean bag, they didn’t get hit by the next person in line. 

Suddenly a child gave a good wind up and a bean bag landed on top of the mechanism that allows the door to close slowly.  It was way up high – almost touching the ceiling.  “Kristen, come quick!  We need to get the bean bag down!”  I suggested they find something that could reach the bean bag.  They hunted until they came across a broom handle.  After many attempts they realized they were a bit too short to get the bean bags down with a broom handle.

The children went to get a stool to stand on.  Many attempts later, playing with angles of how the broom is held, recognizing that some children are taller than others, and much trial and error, they got the beanbag down!  They were so happy and proud of their success!  I said YES, and the children turned this into a learning opportunity that I never would have imagined happening.

Now that I am on a journey to be a YES teacher, I find that learning and creative thinking is being taken to a whole different level than I have ever seen before.  Children are empowered, happy and they are learning.  By letting go of the need to control the classroom and children by saying NO, I have given our preschool over to the hypnotizing and magical effects of the word “YES”.

Join me on this journey.  Step back, take off you management hat and say YES to something today! Ask yourself, “Is it hurting anybody or anything?” 

And, by the way, those shelves are not really just shelves anymore.  They have been bunk beds, a tree house, a diving board, a super hero launch pad, an eagle’s nest and a place where children feel empowered. 

Stay tuned for part 2 in this magical "YES" journey?      - Kristen

1 comment:

  1. Awesome read! Love how you make me think about my own words and actions, as I raise my kids. Proud of you and your school. Alexandria is blessed to have you!!!