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Early childhood education has been my life for over 30 years. I have taught all age groups from infants to 5-year-olds. I was a director for five years in the 1980s, but I returned to the classroom 22 years ago. My passion is watching the ways children explore and discover their world. In the classroom, everything starts with the reciprocal relationships between adults and children and between the children themselves. With that in mind, I plan and set up activities. But that is just the beginning. What actually happens is a flow that includes my efforts to invite, respond and support children's interface with those activities and with others in the room. Oh yeh, and along the way, the children change the activities to suit their own inventiveness and creativity. Now the processes become reciprocal with the children doing the inviting, responding and supporting. Young children are the best learners and teachers. I am truly fortunate to be a part of their journey.

Saturday, November 11, 2017


Several years ago, there was a child who was hoarding all the cars at the sensory table.  Other children were trying to grab some vehicles away from him.  He was having none of that.  In fact he was making quite a raucous and screaming bloody murder.

At that time, I had a student teacher who was monitoring the sand table.  She approached the situation by telling the child that he had to share.  There was one problem: he was an English language learner early in his quest to master this new language.   As she approached him, he recoiled and squeezed the vehicles harder and closer to his body.  He also screamed louder.

Next, the teacher aide came over to help out.  The aide knew I never used the word share in my classroom because when an adult asks a child to share, he is basically asking the child to stop playing with what he is playing with and to give it to the child who is asking for it.  Needless to say, that is not sharing.  The aide used the strategy I often used.  She had the children who wanted a vehicle to ask the child for a car.  Then she asked the child hoarding the cars: "Which one can he have?"  In that way, the child would have some control over who gets which car.  However, there was still an implied assumption that he was expected to "share" the cars.  The result was that he screamed even harder and held the cars even tighter.

Nothing seemed to be working, so as the teacher, I figured I had to try to help restore a little calm to the sand table.  I remember getting up from the art table and actually wondering what I was going to do.  By the time I reached the sensory table, I saw four children yelling for cars from the child hoarding the vehicles.  When I looked at the child who had all the cars, I saw a mixture of fear, desperation and defiance as if his life depended on him keeping the cars.  In other words, he looked like an animal that had been cornered.

I made a split second decision to stand between the four children and the boy with the cars.  I actually nudged the little group to the other end of the sensory table and began to play a different activity with them that did not involve cars.  I kid you not, within 30 seconds the child with all the cars stopped his screaming, came out of his corner and started giving each child one of the cars he had been hoarding.  There was no need for me to stick around at that point because play resumed with everyone happily engaged.  And they all seemed to have gotten what they wanted.  The boy who had been hoarding got to play with the others partially on his own terms and the others all got cars. 

As a teacher, what did I learn from this episode? First, nobody likes to be cornered.  When a child is cornered, it is time to give him space.  Second, you cannot make a child be generous.  Rather, given half a chance, he can and will be generous of his own accord. 
Conflicts are an inevitable outgrowth of living, working and playing together.  Because they are inevitable, I do not view conflicts negatively.  Rather, conflicts are an opportunity to learn about how to get what you want and still get along with others.  When we do that in the classroom in a constructive way, children gain important life skills.

I am a featured presenter at the NAEYC annual conference in Atlanta.  I will be presenting my newest talk on children's scientific inquiry at the water table.  If you are attending the conference and would like to hear it, my presentation is on Saturday, November 18th from 11:00 - 12:15 in room A411 in the Georgia World Conference Center.  If you do come, make sure you stop by and say hello.  If you cannot make the session but would still like to meet---this is, after all, a great place and time to network---send me an email. 

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