Development Discipline - Level 1
Teacher - Exemplar and molder • respect • courtesy • scholarship • tidiness • patience • timeliness • cheerfulness • giving • sharing • leadership
Level One in Developmental Discipline is the foundation and as such, approaches the child as an apprentice selecting tools for the practice of life in a democratic society. What an awesome task we parents and teachers of the very young have taken upon ourselves. We will show children the necessary tools, perhaps over and over and over again before they are taken up as life skills and the children become able to use them as their own. And as we do so, we too are reminded of our role in the preservation of the fragile freedoms inherent in a democracy.
Everyone in this classroom is important and so we shall have a Board of Honor which says so every moment of the day. The board is at the center of the room. It is constructed in such a way that name cards can be inserted and removed easily and efficiently. [The size of the name card varies but may be an index card or a chart card; a picture of the child can be attached. It is also most effective if the card is laminated since the children like to handle them].
The name on the board represents this person as a respected member of the classroom society. If the person represented by that name is inappropriate (disrespects the classroom rules) then it becomes the offender’s role to remove the name from the Board. [The teacher never removes a child’s card or verbally comments on the child’s inability or unwillingness to remove a name. After all, it is no secret to anyone - least of all the child who has intentionally broken the rule]. This is the ‘foundation’ tool --- that each of us is responsible for our own behavior, not only as to its recognition but also it’s consequences.
An example of the Negative consequences could read as follows:
At the beginning of each day or even each half day or hour, depending upon the need of the child for shorter or longer time expanses for working toward self control, the child may return the name to the appropriate place on the Board of Honor.
The process tools for helping the child make use of these components are in the hands of the teacher and must be presented to the child . . . gently . . . . clearly . . . . justly . . . . . consistently . . . and lovingly.
Some children will accept the tools and begin to practice their use immediately, some will offer reluctance and some will display absolute refusal. We must consistently pick up the tools and over and over again place them into the hands of the reluctant and refusing child while we consistently reward the children who accept the tools and are using them to good advantage. [The Honor Board does this along with praise and intermittent materialistic offerings.]
It is important that we agree to the initial thorough instruction of these components so each child in the classroom is so well versed in their use that when the family or a friend comes to the classroom the classroom student could explain to them about the Honor Board, the Rules and Consequences.
Open House would be a fine time for this very thing to happen.
Do we have consensus?
Do we have a mutual understanding of these tools and the way to use them?
Are creative ideas generating?
This might be a good time to look at the illustration of the Honor Board and decide how you will create it for your classroom.
Once the thorough learning has been accomplished by teaching, drill, review, modeling and consistent use, then the components become the machinery that runs the classroom, not an external part of the total program, but the very heartbeat of every classroom moment. This is not a challenging feat. It is a natural result as we stand back, allow the children to make choices, allow them to live through the resulting consequences (teach them grace in defeat and joy in victory) and gently and consistently replace the tools into their hands. Once we have the self realization of the importance of honing the students to be capable and self responsible learners we can teach the children that math or replacing a library book or sharing with a friend are of equal importance since each is a step in the developmental stages of becoming the best we can be - because we are proclaiming to ourselves and others that we are Honor Students and there is MY name on THAT BOARD of HONOR to prove it.
Routine is an invaluable tool in a smoothly running self disciplined classroom. Although there are only a few rules in a classroom, there is a need for many routines. The routine makes a series of actions into a pattern that becomes second nature. When one first teaches a routine or a drill, it is time consuming and exacting work. Once the drill has become second nature, it frees up the children and the teacher to think of other matters and to take much of the repetitive parts of the day for granted. In addition, these routines give a sense of continuity, flow and safety to the classroom. The train illustration reviews the key components and steps for successful teaching and use of drills.
Level One sets up the classroom in such a fashion that it is a place of safety, security, structure and freedom within the confines of that structure. The teacher, as the guardian of the well-being of each student, creates the structure and consistently and gently nudges anyone straying outside the limits. The purpose of the structure must always serve the purpose of maintaining the peace of the social system, in this case the classroom, and the well-being of each student.
So study is a “quiet” time not only to secure my rights to peace, but my neighbors’ rights as well. Attentive listening helps me to learn and also does away with distracting disturbances for my neighbors. It allows the teacher to perform the obligation and joy of teaching. The rules of the classroom serve the purpose for which the classroom exists. Sometimes it is a challenge for the teacher to balance the needs and desires of the classroom. It is a tremendous responsibility for the teacher to help youngsters think about others, when many have little recognition of the existence of others, let alone understanding of others needs. In such instances it is still important to help the student give deference to others. It becomes a challenge, at times, for the teacher to convince a student that the rules are necessary for personal well-being. The teaching is crucial, however. These are the building blocks of respect for self. These are the elements for building successful relationships. This is the medium which fosters a healthy society, enables a country to remain a democracy.
Role of the Teacher
The following excerpt captures the fundamental keys which are important for the role of teacher, not only in Level One, but in any classroom where developing young people is the real concern.
When I first went into the classroom, one of my biggest fears and concerns, like most everyone else, was classroom management. One of the things I felt I was least adept at was handling power struggles. I had many dreams featuring the students getting the best of me and me looking foolish. Another nightmare was that I would be standing in the from of the class trying to say something really important and no one would be listening. I wondered if I would lose control of myself like some of my teachers did and scream at the students or call names and do damaging things to others in the front of the class. Another vision I had was standing in the front of my Jr. High students, waiting for them to get quiet (remember those sages who told us to stand at attention and wait until the students were ready to listen?) but the students would just snicker, call me names from the back of the room and never get quiet.
Sometimes I would begin to think more about the students who would be coming and hoping that I would meet their needs as a student. I hated those times when teachers allowed one student to bully them, and I always felt angry and cheated if the rest of the class were punished because one or two students were unruly. I hated losing out on learning because one student couldn’t or wouldn’t be controlled. What if a student came to my class with real needs, real excitement about learning, but instead of teaching, I put my own need for power or my lack of ability to gain control of the learning environment, my failure to work effectively with youngsters, in place of learning?
I soon learned the same lessons that other survivors in the classroom learn. If I put myself and my worries first, stewing about my delivery, my rapport with the students, my perspective, my getting across the objectives and the material, I was losing the most crucial thing that I had. I was losing the relationship I could share with a student. The way that I could really do my best and give my best to the students was to forget about myself completely in service to the students and in service to sharing the content they needed. I could provide them with the insights and tools which would excite them and move them forward if I got out of the center of everything. Forgetting about myself and my personal needs, I could become enveloped in caring and sharing.
I’ve tried to pass on this information. Certainly it is important to share this hard won insights with other teachers. When I have tried to ponder on this and make it more available to colleagues and students I have been told that no one can pass it along. I am told that it is a gift that is unique to a few people, that teaching is an art and that it is a unique and unlearnable gift. I don’t believe that. I don’t believe it for one instant.
I do believe that some of what good teachers do is a gift - perhaps even a passion. I believe that teaching is easier for some than for others. I believe that the things I do in the classroom have evolved from experience, but a lot has come from the models of other outstanding teachers who touched my life and who instinctively taught me how to build relationship. These process skills have evolved into my teaching style over time which matches my personality and which is also true to a key ingredient of any great teacher. The love for the students pours forth and each student knows that the love is real and that the concern which the teacher has in passing along the content comes through a genuineness of respect for each recipient.
I want to share the excitement and the thrill that I receive when I am in the classroom. I want to share the tools, the tricks of the trade, the nuances, the invigoration. And most of all, I want to share the philosophy which is the underpinning and allows the magic to happen over and over again. I will give credence to those who say that it is unreproduceable in one sense. That is, the essence of this gift is relationship and the belief in the value and dignity of each person in the classroom.
It includes an innate belief in self and a sense of responsibility to humanity which knows no boundaries. I feel it vital to be true to self - and it is just as vital to assist each student, regardless of where they are in self recognition, to be true to self and to the gifts which are inherently present. It is equally important that that gift of love and acceptance be extended beyond self to include the gifts, talents and personhood of every other member - of the class, the school, the community.
I understand that one person may not be in control of others. Another great gift a teacher gives is self control. One of the greatest teaching gifts is the unfolding of each self into a sharing and caring human being. Not only is the teacher unwilling to hold the class hostage to a curriculum notion or a final test score, no teacher should hold a class hostage to one idea of education nor allow one student to hold the class hostage because of personal prejudice, bitterness, lack of self discipline or lack of motivation.
I have found that the less selfish and self centered I am, the more in tune I am with who I am without belaboring the point. The more successful I am in allowing others to be themselves, the more I can be true to myself. The more I am able to admit my errors and miscalculations, the more likely I am to overlook the errors of others. The less likely I am to be judgmental or unforgiving of student failings, the more open and healthy the classroom becomes.
This classroom management program may not be perfect for every teacher. As is true for me, each teacher must be true to self, and will do their best teaching when reflecting their own personal strengths, abilities and philosophy of life. This concept requires self honesty, and then self forgetting. It does not cost a lot of money, and it may not even be something which can be learned in an in-service program. It does cost some soul searching. It holds the teacher to a very high moral standard - a standard of modeling unconditional regard, building and maintaining relationship, holding students to producing their best work each day. It demands vigilance - to the rights of each student and to guiding and maintaining the rights and dignity of all.
It also pays high dividends. There is nothing as exciting as the personal high which comes from giving and sharing, loving and nurturing. Being true to self is important, yes! Seeing the modeling and teaching bear fruits in student after student going out to be true to themselves and share their gifts ---that’s the ultimate!” - anonymous
Children have a strong work ethic by the time they enter school. They have learned a language, including the innate structure and grammatical rules. They have developed control over their own bodies, toileting, large muscle control, walking, running, skipping, even riding a a bike and playing games.
The teacher extends that work ethic to new tasks and accomplishments. As Isaac Asimov noted in one of his novels, the ability to motivate the child, to call forth the work ethic, comes in recognizing that work and play should feel much the same. Teachers who are able to motivate children to produce great learning efforts utilize recognition of the difference between meaningful tasks and drudgery. They understand the importance of empowering the student to produce the work and personally monitor progress. Such a teacher extends freedom to learn, provides choices of ways to accomplish and show learning and confirmation of progress.
There is also an understanding of the child’s nature. The teacher assists each child to gain self control, moves in to guide the child when self discipline wavers or disappears. The teacher is aware of the student’s limited ability to see or understand the needs of others, to be fully enmeshed in recognizing a social conscience. Social skills, manners, kindness are modeled and valued. Emerging awareness of others and attention to the needs of others is highlighted, emphasized and rewarded.
As we walk through a day in the Developmental Discipline Primary Classroom we will apply the rules, the skills and the routines as an integral part of the academic content and they will work together to create harmony.
Entering the classroom
Each child comes prepared in an individual way to approach a day in school. Some will come lovingly with care and fastidiousness, some will come appropriately and objectively, some coldly and forceful and some angrily and even cruelly. Thus the school bell rings and each child approaches the classroom with the varied emotions which are a part of that day in the child’s life. How do children approach the classroom door? If they have been taught and have practiced a gentle quiet routine, for the most part, regardless of emotions, they will automatically fall into the routine.
In the meanwhile, we have been preparing the classroom for a happy and productive day. Lessons are already prepared and immediate opportunities for occupation are ready on each desk. Every child has been anticipated and can readily perceive that fact. We greet the children at the door with joy, love and expectation, and as much as possible, the feelings of fear, anger, frustration are left outside. The children enter the classroom and as practiced, they know where to deposit personal belongings and exactly how to proceed into the unfolding day. Now, as each child begins an independent task, we take the time for meeting each student one to one.
One to One starts the day
This is one effective method I have seen practiced. The teacher has the students place all pencils which need sharpening in a wooden holder on the desk. The holder this teacher used was a 2x4 scrap block about eight inches long. Holes had been drilled in the blocks for eight or nine pencils or crayons. The teacher went from desk to desk with an automatic sharpener and while sharpening the pencils the child wishes to have for the day, the teacher and child have a momentary chat. Of course during this time, the students are working at their first assignments. The Honor Board is prominent, silently praising and reminding from the center front. We typically refer to the students as Honor Students and we allow the students to take responsibility for doing their work and maintaining responsibility for their own actions. And not incidentally, we refer to ourselves, by both verbalization and example as “Honor Teacher.”
This might be a good time to make a note of one or two practices that would fit into the day naturally and accomplish the same kind of one to one sense in the classroom.
Radiate Warmth and Organization
As the teacher attends to the necessary A.M.. demands (attendance, lunch count, opening exercises, the pledge, there is a constant modeling of warmth and courtesy - “please,” “how thoughtful,” “thank you,” excuse me,” etc. Is this expression of warmth and courtesy an expression of Developmental Discipline? Yes, it is. It is the systemic heart-beat of all our classroom activities. It flows naturally as we allow ourselves and allow our students to care and to show their humanity. It is the beginning of a mutual regard which we want to develop into a love and respect that all students will carry with them into their world beyond the classroom.
The classroom moves, students activate its movement as the teacher has previously orchestrated it, through instruction, modeling and practice. Always the movement is filled with a warm, courteous, self responsible atmosphere built around recognition offered by the Honor Board. Expectations are related to the students and constantly reinforced as the teacher instructs and guides the class through each lesson and routine while the students themselves “take charge” of the various activities because they are “Honor Students.” Much of the orchestration of movement within the classroom can be conducted by the teacher through previously taught gestures or single words. A student who needs to be reminded of an expectation can be prompted by a look or a gesture. If this does not prove to be sufficient, then the student is directed by a hand movement to remove (or turn over the card to the blank side) his or her name from the Honor Board. From this time until the end of the day the student is not displayed as a participant of the Honor System of rewards and privileges, but is always a part of the warmth and respect that characterizes Developmental Discipline.
The Honor Board
There may be an occasion when the child knows it is appropriate to remove the name card and instead, resists. Many motives may be a part of that hesitation. The loving teacher does not press the issue or call attention to the child. A power struggle will not help the child or the class. Allowing the child to manipulate by calling attention to themselves through crying or demanding different treatment will not serve to enhance a feeling of peace. Rushing up and removing the child’s name will do nothing to promote a sense of dignity. Punishment of the child will inevitably result in a backlash or a passive aggressive stance. The important message of the child’s resistance to the social order has already been given. The alert to the child that a lack of self control has been shown is very clear. . More than this is counterproductive.
Some teachers may be asking about the rest of the day. If a child takes the name down at 10:00 a.m., what will prevent mayhem and ugliness for the rest of the day? If the teacher is working with the child to build a relationship and to establish a sense of mutual dignity and respect, the opposite occurs. Once a primary child feels that an adult of importance has been disappointed, there is an effort to show that this was a singular incident rather than a pattern. The child has lost the prominence of their name on display, but there is no need for a loss of face. The teacher and student continue to interact and the teacher continues to display love to the being of the child. The child can and does recognize that something wrong was done, but nothing destroys the sense of well being. The child completes the day having lost access to some of the privileges and rewards of the classroom, but this is the natural consequence of losing self control. The child knows that there will be a chance to have the name on the HONOR BOARD the very next day and to show more self discipline.
Discipline is taught. Here's how to go about it.
These steps help to establish the Democratic setting-
and give you freedom to teach along with giving the students
freedom to learn.
Self discipline must be taught to preschool and primary age children. Self discipline consists of a series of skills and modeled behaviors which young children enjoy learning. These skills are essential for students to possess in order to be free to learn.
Dialogue: Introducing Developmental Discipline to Students
This is a recommended format for introducing the program. Feel free to add to it or change it to make the introduction your own. The important thing is to outline the total program for the students, to be positive and excited about the program and Honor Board and to repeat these statements frequently throughout the year.
“Every student in this classroom is here to learn. That is your job. I am here to teach. We have a program to help each of us to do our job. The rules help you to learn and to be happy. The rules help me to teach you.
We don't want to be cheated. Don't cheat yourself and don't cheat each other. Do your best. I won't cheat myself and I won't cheat you. I'll teach my best.
You are an honor student. I am an Honor Teacher. This is our classroom and this is our program. We will be practicing this program every day until we know it very well. You will really love school like this!
The only way you can lose that freedom is if you hurt our classroom by breaking our rules. If you do, it will be because you made a choice to break a rule. Then you must say to yourself..."I broke the rule. I did not make a good choice. I must take my name off the Honor Board. I have cheated myself of the classroom privileges and rewards."
We will practice the rules many times so that you will know what to do and how to act. If you remove your name from the Honor Board you lose your status of Honor Student for the day, and you also lose your privileges and any rewards for the day. The very next morning, your name will be back on the Honor Board and you will have regained your privileges. You will have a new day and you will not want to cheat yourself again. You are learning to find ways to get your own needs met and still help others to feel important and special. That is how we build school community.
For the next two weeks we will practice the order and structure of the classroom. We will work hard at learning and remembering to respect one another. During that time I will remind you and we will practice the rules. After we all know the rules you will be responsible to keep the classroom order, to listen and learn and to respect yourself and all of us.
If you break the rule, you will need to take responsibility for cheating yourself. It will be difficult for you to remove your name from the Honor Board, but remember, the only time you need to lose your privileges is if you choose to break a rule.”
Basic listening skills are vital to prepare the class to learn democratic practice.
At the Foundation level, “Respect One Another”is the value rule which is expanded throughout the year to cover the areas associated with peaceful social relationships in a democratic society. “Respect One Another” covers a broad range of social, emotional and moral behaviors. Week by week more areas are included as new practices are taught as part of practicing the value rule. Since the youngsters this age rarely reason above the pre-moral level, the focus of our energy will be teaching, modeling, and practicing appropriate actions.
The student is unable to listen and internalize lecture, so the Values Rules are best taught through story. The Fables are an excellent source for this purpose. They began as oral tradition, use animals as examples, can be understood at many levels of reasoning and are not preachy.
If there is a strong bond in the relationship between teacher and students, the work progresses more rapidly and becomes more deeply ingrained. We fondly recall “playing school” with younger children, and in retrospect, can remember how very much we sounded like the favorite teacher we had just left. The fables, short and appealing to children, will be a part of that scene.
The Primary students can be introduced to the Fables by integrating them into the instruction and flow of the day. Once the child knows the stories they can be used as a living part of the management system. Telling the fable, The goose and the golden egg,
Day One: Begin the teaching of the Values Rule
The teacher gives the class the gift of this story:
The Country Man took the eggs to market and soon began to get rich. But it was not long before he grew impatient with the goose because she gave him only a single golden egg a day. He was not getting rich fast enough.
Then one day, after he had finished counting his money, the idea came to him that he could get all the golden eggs at once by killing the goose and cutting it open. But when the deed was done, not a single golden egg did he find and his precious Goose was dead. (page 62)
- The Aesop for Children
Do we learn a sad lesson from this story?
Would you ever do such a thing?
Are we ever foolish or selfish or greedy?
This sad story is about all of us. Each time we destroy what we have through our selfish foolish actions we are just like this foolish owner. We have a family, a classroom of friends and a teacher who loves us. Each time we act in a selfish or greedy way we take a chance of destroying some of the gifts of that love.
We are all honor students. We will keep our names on the board and keep our privileges. We will respect one another and we will not be selfish or foolish. I’m sure none of us wants to be foolish or lose our privileges. This week, if I see you beginning to do something foolish, I will remind you by saying: “Melody, don’t kill the goose.” And you will remember and not make a foolish choice.
Developmental Discipline: Freedom to LearnPortrait of the Student at Level One
The program for this level is based on recognizing and building
self-worth in each student as a "Being" and a "Doer".
The Primary school child is correctly busy at the business of sorting out ways to meet personal needs. The child is complex and like a precious jewel, intricately faceted. To see the child only as a learner or student is similar to looking at one facet of a jewel and missing the interplay of light and color. The child certainly does not approach school or day care in that manner. The wealth of the child and the surrounding world, fact and fantasy, comes in the door with the learner. To work effectively we will accept the holistic nature of the child.
The child is also in the midst of determining who should be in control. Hourly, there are issues raised about who is in charge, how time and energy will be spent and who must be served. The child's body is often the determining factor in what the child will do and how s/he can perform. Gaining control of self is difficult work.
Most children at this point are working to establish self control and will continue to work at self discipline for many years to come. Helping the child to feel capable of self discipline and choice slows down the number of tantrums and power struggles. The child is basically autonomous and we beckon the child to taste of the pleasures which come from awareness of others and making concessions which take others into account.
A tool for this is the PEPSI model. This is a mnemonic device for recalling the basic developmental areas of the child.
There are many tasks and developmental skills which are the province of the young child. The human being first develops gross motor skills and control of the body. It is later that refinement occurs and the child seeks to become adept at small motor skills. Typically the young child uses the body in broad strokes. It is unusual for the child to have an awareness that skills are developing. Instead, there is an intensity and drive to live fully in the body and to push the limits of physical ability at every turn. It is a simple matter to see the developmental stages in the physical domain if the child is healthy and normal. The healthy child takes on each stage of development with grand intensity and shows pride with every stride. The child who is ready to learn to hop or skip or swing works diligently. Bumps, bruises, missed cues, blisters, all are worthy of a momentary sniffle, but cannot daunt the child's headlong rush to achieve.
The same is true of body control. Although the interior warring about who is in charge and who is the boss sometimes spills over into the domain of toileting or clothing choices, most of the focus for the child comes in mounting increased self control and needing ever lessening guidance and assists from others. Children typically like to be in control of themselves. An early and often overused phrase is "Me do it!" There are many artificial demands which school settings may require of children. Many children talk non-stop and expect everyone to listen. It is a difficult transition to come to school and find that others do not listen and further, do not wish to have the child talk. Some children literally feel that their brains are not working if they are not talking, and some children truly learn best by verbalizing their thought processes.
Children are full of energy. It is difficult for them to sit still and there is little about their development which directs stillness. Physical awareness of being the boss of their hands, not touching, not hitting, not pushing, not wiggling must be brought to the child's attention if important in a setting. Because children are self aware rather than keyed into the feelings of others, it is difficult for them to think about sharing or waiting or not calling names. (These skills can be taught, of course, and it is important for children to learn to be socially adept.) Those who have siblings have already learned many of these things.
The first days of schooling for most children are physically challenging because there are so many new physical limits which are impinging. The child can learn to work within the physical limitations if they are reasonable and the child is given cues, helpful assists and the expectations for self discipline are built up over time and patiently practiced.
The child of two and three needs to attach to a "parenting figure" and to continue to work through issues of being able to trust situations, finding ways to be safe, and having a sense of control over the environment. The child of four and five expands to include additional adults in a parenting or nurturing role and continues to develop a sense of trust in adults and mirrors that sense of trust in the ability to express the self and share self with others.
Although the child knows that the teacher is not the same as the parent, a rich and safe environment can often be distinguished by children who call the teacher "mama" or "daddy". Thus the role of the teacher for young children in care may be described as a nurturing parent figure . As the child develops self-reliance, self-control and a sense of safety the teacher's role becomes diversified. The child has a growing need to satisfy those in charge and thus gain approval for the "Doing" things.
If the child has been nurtured lovingly, the sense of well "being" is strong. The most important teaching role for such a child is to be firm, nurturing, provide a rich and consistent environment and assist the child in initial efforts to gain self control, to continue feeling the gratification of growing self control and avoid any use of punitive measures. It is essential to value the child's right to make errors and to remember that the child is thinking about actions using pre-moral thinking.
The pre-moral stage is the first level of moral reasoning or philosophical development. The child knows that certain things are "wrong" because of what will happen, but there is no real understanding of the "wrongness" of the act. To understand the child it is important to know what is getting in the way of being able to understand right and wrong.
Guilt and shame are natural responses for most children when they believe that they have displeased others or know that they have gotten caught doing something which is forbidden. Although they are powerful behavior shapers, if overdone a sense of guilt or shame leaves a lasting scar and robs a child of rich potential and creativity. Modeling and teaching appropriate behavior with gentle coaching will work better than pointing out a child's errors and weaknesses.
Asking a child "why" is also ineffective. Since the child is philosophically unable to be introspective, that is, to think about thinking, it is more important to spend time reminding a child of the reasons a behavior is not acceptable. Further time can best be spent showing the child alternatives, or expanding ideas about other choices the next time a temptation arises. Many times a child forgets.
Sometimes children want to have their own way and cannot understand why their way is not just as valid as an adult wish or demand. At times children become tired and lose control over impulses and self will. Children vary in the ability to sublimate needs and wishes, to control impulses, to see alternatives, to choose what will meet needs other than their own. Children who do wrong thing at this age should be assisted and nurtured, given clear expectations and helped to make good choices.
Social messages have great meaning to all of us. At different stages, though, we may not listen to some of the messages with the same intensity that will come later. For the young child, messages from parents and from the teacher have the most meaning and impact. The adults who are closest to the child will have the most referent power. If a child believes that s/he is important and highly valued by adults, then the messages which are sent will have a great impact on the child. These early messages are deeply embedded and have a lot of power to shape the child.
A teacher who gives a child messages of high regard will be setting up the likelihood that the child will love school, look forward to learning and feel like the challenges of learning are exciting. The child who receives messages of low worthiness will be less likely to come to school, to feel motivated at challenging points in learning, unlikely to complete formal schooling.
Peers of the primary age child have less impact than significant adults. It is a powerful tool to be aware of the social referents of the child and to set a pattern of acceptance, warmth and regard during each stage of development. Some youngsters are more social than others. Some children seem to develop leadership skills early. Some children are inept in social situation and do not possess the natural charm or attractiveness to peers that other same age children may have. In the primary years much of this can be addressed in plain terms. We assume that many social skills are innate, and perhaps they are. At the same time, we know that many of the skills, perhaps even some of the charming behaviors, can be taught and learned. Since children are less concerned with peer pressure at this stage of development it is an excellent time to help children learn to deal with peer pressure, work at being socially adept and model socially responsible behaviors.]
Whenever we bring up the idea of helping students to acquire good social skills we have comments asking which skills we will choose, whose social strata will be valued, what proper character education should include. We have those who worry that teaching social skills will detract from academic skills and rob the child of high test scores. As we look at the natural areas of growth in children this age, it becomes more and more clear that the finest provinces for attention to acquisition of new tasks come in the areas of physical development, emotional development and social development. Time spent on task acquisition in these areas will promote the best set of interpersonal and relationship skills, meet the interests and natural abilities and give us the highest success rate with natural motivation.
Though the child is not ready to understand or practice democratic principles, this is an ideal time to develop a habit of teaching them to ask others about their wishes. It is entirely reasonable to explain how behavior has taken away another's choices. It is also an excellent point to begin explaining and showing them how their choices have limited their own freedoms and options.
In school settings we are often told that many of the children have little intensity about learning. When we see diminished interest in a child it is a clear signal that we are not involving the child in an appropriate set of tasks or that there have been enough failures that the child's natural strength and endurance have been damaged. Children have a tremendous ability to stay with tasks when they are satisfying a need and a drive. Task commitment is high for using the body in broad strokes and in ways which are appropriate to development.
Since most children of this age learn best by doing, it is important to have varied challenges, most of which are very didactic in nature. When children ask questions or seek to learn about things which are conceptual or theoretical, we certainly can assist them to make meaningful connections and to work within their areas of interest. The caution comes in working to involve an entire class of youngsters in materials which are not in concert with natural abilities or interests. Even then, a cursory perspective of numeration does no damage. It is in the pushing, testing and demanding evidence of understanding beyond the intellectual skills which makes curriculum choice damaging.
Whenever the question of appropriate learning material comes up, the story comes to mind of the kindergarten child who came home and asked his parents where he came from. The father cleared his throat, stammered around and went through a discussion of procreation. When the little boy seemed uninterested the father stopped. "Why did you want to know?" he asked his son. "Well," said the lad of five, "I just wondered, 'cause Charlie said he came from Chicago."
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E-mail J'Anne Ellsworth at Janne.Ellsworth@nau.edu
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