What a glorious day it was today with this amazing little toddler. I always love challenges and today provided me not only a challenge but a recollection of the familiar quote:
The Secret of Education is respecting the Pupil : Ralph Waldo Emerson
My day began with the idea of initiating a game to help this child become familiar with the letters sounds of “a” and “b”. I set up what I thought would be an extremely fun, hands on, active, and engaging activity that every toddler would be sure to love. Haha! So, in excitement, I went to work drawing the letters “a” and “b” over and over, in a pattern form, on the sidewalk with chalk. I was convinced that this activity would be the key to helping him learn these letter sounds.
By this point in my life, you would think I would know that not every toddler is the same and that their interests, emotions, and direction can change minute to minute. However, I was reminded again how important it is that young children are respected when attempting to teach them new things, especially anything related to academics. I feel that too often the frustration we have as educators and parents is our attempt at pushing education on a child, even sometimes in the forms of “fun” engaging activities, instead of letting them guide us and show us how they want to learn and adjusting it according to their desires.
After calling him over and introducing the activity, I began recording as I normally do. I began by saying, “Welcome to Early Learning Haven..”. But to my surprise, he did not find excitement in what I saw. I think out of pure sweetness for me, he jumped from sound to sound with me once. However, after that, he no longer wanted anything to do with the activity and ran off to go play on the equipment in the park. I tried a couple of times to see if I could catch his attention but, with no avail. I knew that this was not going to work and I sat down to rethink the situation.
As I sat there, several choices went through my mind. I could completely quit and call it a day. Or, perhaps, I could give him some space for awhile and then find a new avenue that would be more conducive to what he was interested in doing that day in the park. As I talked and played with him, I noticed that he was really interested in some steps that were a little high above the sand. These types of steps were meant to be stepped on and were close enough to each other so that children could move from step to step on them without falling to the ground. When he saw those steps, he called them drums and told me he wanted to go play those drums.
As soon as we arrived to the steps, he began banging on them with his hands. In my mind, I began creating the idea of placing a letter “a” on the red step and a letter “b” on the green step. I didn’t even have a pen in my bag, but I did have some chalk and some paper in my bag. I quickly wrote these two letters on two separate papers and placed each of them on a different colored step. I invited him to start playing the “a” drum (red step) and the “b” drum (green step). As he did so, I sang each letter he hit to a different tone. I felt like maybe I had now found the engaging activity that I was looking for for him.
However, as soon as I started recording with my phone, he stopped and was completely done with the activity. He now wanted nothing to do with drumming. Instead, throwing these papers off each of their steps was now the enjoyable thing to do. I encouraged him a few times to see if he still had a desire to play these letter drums. However, he would just take them and throw them in the air each time I attempted to place the papers back on each step.
I could have given up telling myself that he was not in the mood to learn and to forget the entire thought of teaching him a couple letter sounds that day. However, I did not do that. As I sat there watching him throw these papers in the sky and watching them fly through the wind, I came up with this crazy new idea in my head. From what had previously transpired, I now was convinced that there was nothing that I was sure of that would work in helping him learn these two letter sounds. But, it was worth a shot.
I took each paper and in my own way, (yes, I am not the best paper airplane maker) I turned each paper with a specific letter on it, into an airplane. With my sidewalk chalk nearby, I wrote the letter a few times on the outside of each specific lettered plane with sidewalk chalk. And with wonder and curiosity, I watched an activity that I had created in a matter of seconds turn into a teaching method that helped me enter this child’s heart for the day. I was able to enter his world of imagination by asking him how high each of these letter planes could fly. Of course, he showed me. I was now speaking his language. I then told him that the letter “a” plane and letter “b” plane wanted to go home and asked him if he would be willing to fly them home. With the letter “a” plane in his hand, I explained that their homes existed over on the sidewalk where I had previously written the letters. He began flying each plane over to the sidewalk where I had written the letters.
As he flew the plane, I made sounds of the airplane for him. The most exciting thing for me was watching him finally make it over to the sidewalk and land the letter “a” plane , without my assistance, exactly on one of the “a” letters on the sidewalk. He then went back and picked up the “b” plane and made his way over to the sidewalk to place it on it’s “b” home. Wahoo!! I knew he knew how to start recognizing these two sounds.
The next thing I asked him was if there were other “b” homes and if he could fly his “b” plane to these other homes. He lifted this letter “b” plane off the ground and landed it down onto another “b” that had been written on the ground. He continued to do this activity moving the “b” plane from “b” home to “b” home. Thankfully, he did it for several minutes which allowed me to capture it on video. He was not interested in touching the “a” plane again.
When he felt he was done with this final activity, he continued to fly his “b” plane all over the park with sound effects of a plane coming from me. My mission for the day and his respect had both been fulfilled and I was happy. 🙂