The Young Child Speaks- Are We Listening
The truth of the matter is as a teacher of children as young as infancy to twelve years of age, there are some things that children have said that are just beyond penning here. But I am going to recall just a few in this article. Some will seem hilarious while others may be painstakingly sad. However, they are still the innocent words of children built around many experiences. I remember that I was not always aware of all of their experiences.
- Love All of the Children!
- Never Met A Child Like This One
- Are You For Real?
- Whose The Baby In This Family?
- Pain and Suffering Can Cause Non-verbalism
- My Mama Gonna Kick Your ---
- You Better Watch What You Say to Children
- What Is This Thing For?
- Were You Baked In The Oven?
- When Children Speak- We Must Listen!
Love All of the Children!
As mentioned in some of my previous teacher writings, I have shared that there are some stories about young children that will never leave the thoughts of teachers. Many of these experiences are shared only between the child and the teacher. Now with some of the new privacy laws, teachers are extra careful. But no names will be used here so that there shall be no identification of children, especially since I have many years of teaching history "under my belt." Now, there are some ideas shared here as far back as when I was student teaching in Nashville, Tennessee! So I'll begin my first childhood teacher-memory story there.
Never Met A Child Like This One
Well my first day of student teaching certainly proved to be way more than I had anticipated. I had been up most of the night because I couldn't sleep. To be honest about it, we had taken all of these undergraduate courses to prepare us for this day. But really
I had no idea as to what to expect.
I did know that once I made it through this stage, "student teaching," this is when they can actually call you a real teacher. This is when you can receive a teaching license and in some states, a teaching certificate.
Well to my amazement, my supervising teacher was a young European-American in her early twenties. She seemed well prepared for this being her second year as a kindergarten teacher. I was very happy, she was so nice to me! This made my day start off really nice. She told me to get ready because these children really "needed me."
Oops, what exactly did that mean? That's when I met Never Met A Child Like This One!
Are You For Real?
Okay, my supervising teacher tried to warn me, but no matter what she had said to me, it would not have mattered. Little did I know I was going to learn my first lesson about meeting the individual needs of children. I was going to learn something that we did not learn at Fisk University and in no education textbook.
Simple, the teacher asked me to read one of the children's favorite books, The Three Bears. As all of the children gathered on the carpet because it seems like they loved stories. There was one little "NEVER MET A CHILD LIKE THIS ONE BEFORE" who was crying and the teacher was trying to get him to come up front to sit on the floor near me.
Before beginning, I asked him if he would like to come and help me turn the pages?
He said, "Yes" and ran up front, sat on the floor right near my right leg. I will never forget this day, because they had encouraged us to wear stockings so that we could "look" like a teacher. So as this child sat down, he began to rub my legs- up and down. At first, my thoughts were like many other ill-prepared teachers. I thought I can't let him do that like he is rubbing my leg- that might not set too well in this school. Immediately, I realized he liked the sensory touch of those stockings- they had a calming effect on him. After all, he is sitting quietly, looking at the book and seemingly interested in the book. He continued to rub my stockings. Well we did learn in college about children who loved sensory materials- well my one leg and stockings became his. He found my stockings many days- no he was not interested in me as a five year-old! That was the beginning of a great relationship between us.
Whose The Baby In This Family?
Then I had my second initial shocking experience. There was an adorable little African
American girl who was very petite. To be honest, out of the twenty- three children there were only three European American children. This little girl had on a what was it? a shirt,
a top, a dress? It was just way too little for her tiny body. Well even though she was a tiny five, there four others younger than she was at home. My teacher said she wore the baby's clothes to school a lot. Oh my I was so shocked! I had never seen that one before either. So after school, my teacher and I decided to go to the local Goodwill and get her a few clothing items that would fit her.
We saved money by going to the Goodwill. Little did I know that we would take our little teacher's salary to purchase such items for the children. But this nice teacher told me that this was something she wanted to do for the children in her class. By the way all of the children were from families who fell below the poverty guidelines. All of the children received free lunches- none were eligible for reduced lunches.
So we went shopping and found some adorable clothes and shoes that could fit several of the children. I also found a pair of stockings for the child who liked touching mine. I put it on some cardboard cut in the shape of a leg. He loved it and that was the end of him needing to touch my right leg.
Pain and Suffering Can Cause Non-verbalism
This next experience came when I moved on to graduate school and had to do an employment experience at a local child care center. There was a six year-old boy who also came from a family of eight. The whole time I was at the center, he never uttered a sound. At this center, there was something like 90% child abuse and neglect. So little did I know that some children who do not talk have suffered silently for so long, that either there is too much pain to talk or they just won't talk.
So one of our tasks was to take this little boy to the doctor for his physical. As I was communicating with the pediatrician, I pointed out how he never talks. But when the doctor walked in the room- I had another first hand experience. The doctor had his stethoscope and he wanted to listen to the little boy's chest. The doctor asked him real gently could he please take his shirt off. The child never said a word, but his chest did.
I still don't know how he did it- but he sunk his chest so far in- until I wanted to cry.
But instead, he was so nervous? scared? intimidated? saddened? burdened? that only silent tears rolled from eyes down his cheeks- still no sound. Then he began to cry still holding his chest in. By this time, the doctor shook his head while looking at me and told me to help him put his shirt back on that he had seen enough.
The doctor said the child had suffered for so long that he learned not to make a sound- why should he? Was it going to do him any good? I cried when I left the doctor's office. I just felt deep down in my heart that no child should have to suffer like that! No wonder he wouldn't talk!
My Mama Gonna Kick Your ---
Never thought too much about snack time in a very serious manner. But it can be very serious if you are hungry and someone else gets a snack before you do. I had observed this little boy before because he was so strong and looking like he could head straight to the olympics at age two.
We had celery, peanut butter, crackers and peach slices for snack. So some days the snack was family style and other days, we do a math activity by counting out how much each child is to begin with.
This was one of those days when were passing out snack. I gave this child's brother his snack first just because he was already sitting at the table. By this time, the two year old olympian asked me, "Where is my snack?" I was thinking how well his language development skills were. But why was I thinking about this when I heard some awful words come from this child's mouth? Then after all, he was really talking to me.
He was very upset because his brother got his food before him. He said to me, "My mama is going to come kick your ---." To be honest about it, I was so shocked and then he repeated the statement with confidence!
When his mom arrived to pick him up, I made sure I told her what he said to me. She certainly didn't seem surprised at all.
You Better Watch What You Say to Children
Now, while I was an experienced teacher, no one told me "you better mean what you say and say what you mean." Ummmm- when I told the class of mostly preschoolers to put their chairs under the table, again I was surprised at what happened next.
Four year-old Acquina got under the table, laid down on the floor on her back. Then she pulled her little chair on the floor near where she was.My, my, what in the world is going on? Then the next child followed her, as they continued until all six of the children did the identical performance. At first, I thought, why are they not doing what I asked them to do? But I stopped in my tracks when I thought about how adorable Acquina had been since the first day of school. Adorable meaning she had to be one of the most naturally funny children I had ever taught. She walks in the month of August, thick eye glasses, cow girl boots and a western-style skirt. She taught me about the innocence of the minds of young children who had never ever been in an educational setting before. So when I first put markers, glue and construction paper out on the table for arts and crafts. She immediately put the markers in the glue and proceeded to make a picture as if she was so sure that was the way it was to be done.
I helped her and told her that the glue was for if she wanted to tear paper and make a collage on her paper after drawing with a marker. Day after day, she did something similar, so I should not have been so surprised when I said, "Put your chairs under the table." After all, I did not say not to put your bodies under the table. In my teaching career, I never used that statement again. I learned that you better watch what you say to children, because they are sure to do what we say!
What Is This Thing For?
In my classroom, I loved doing creative things to help the children learn. I came up with the idea of color-coding the keys on the upright piano that was in my classroom. As a matter of fact, this piano had been there way before I arrived. The teacher before me did play the piano a little. I learned how to play 100 children's songs, a requirement in my undergraduate program.
I took construction paper and coded the keys- C-(red construction paper) D- (blue construction paper) E- (yellow construction paper) F- (green construction paper)
G- (orange construction paper). Then I color coded the keys to correspond with the keys to the music on some of their favorite songs. So the children learned how to play the piano by the matched colors.
I had a student teacher assigned to my classroom. I had to step out of the classroom for about five minutes. When I returned there was a shocking sight in my classroom.
Four year-old Luther was on top of the key board. He was NOT playing the piano with his fingers. He had discovered that he could make music by walking across the keyboard with his shoes on. I went over to the student teacher and asked her (who was unaware of what he was doing) and asked her did she see him? Answer, "No."
Can you hear him? Answer, "No." Well two important things happened. Again I learned that this little boy had never been away from home and there was so much for him to learn. First of all he did not know what it was called- "A piano," I told him. He figured out that you could do it like kickball. He loved sports and just couldn't see why he couldn't play it with his feet? After all, why couldn't he other than a safety issue of hoping that he wouldn't fall. But most importantly, I discovered that my student teacher had a hearing disability. How could she have made it to her senior year in College and no one knew it- including her- we were able to get help! It was mostly because Luther did NOT know what this thing is called or used for.
Were You Baked In The Oven?
As an African American teacher, it was amazing all of the innocent comments that young children make about race. Yes they are aware of race and that is a good thing.
We even have research and evidence that infants can distinguish between races.
When I first arrived in Iowa, I was in the grocery store, with long braids and a brown-skin tone, clad in a bright red outfit with a beautiful, flaring skirt. I was in the check out line and a little European American girl said to her mother, while pointing at me. "Mommy, mommy, there is that chocolate lady." Her mother quickly quieted the child, looking at me in an embarrassing manner. I looked her with assurance to let her know it was okay. This certainly was not the first time nor last time that a child had made a comment to me about my race.
A child in my class asked me as she looked at my arms and hands, "teacher, were you baked in the oven? How did you get that brown like a cookie?" Well, if we adults would allow children to ask questions and make their comments about race, we will find that their curiosity needs satisfaction. It is only when adults perpetuate racist attitudes and children begin to copy and express them, that negativism about certain groups of people occur.
When Children Speak- We Must Listen!
Well the stories and experiences go on.This is just one of the articles that I will share about the words, thoughts and actions of young children. But the most important point to remember is that children "say the darndest things."
Their thoughts are full of fun, innovation, creativity and ideas that we are often now prepared to deal with. Or the actions and thoughts of the children are vastly different from those that we adults may think. Regardless, we must pay tribute and respect to the fact that "When Children Speak- We Must Listen!"
"How long did you bake in the oven?"