"...be straight with young children – honest, matter-of-fact, clear, respectful,
As always my partner, Cheryl, has been challenging me to think critically about the language that I use when supporting and interacting with the children in our classroom.
At the beginning of the year we had a great conversation around the use of the word "friends". I don't know why exactly that I use this term when referring to the children in our classroom. I think I used it as a "term of endearment", yet when Cheryl challenged me to think about why/how I was using it I was quick to recognize that it wasn't the best choice of word.
The children in our classroom are important to me, they do become a second family ... but they are not my "friends". Often I just added the word to the end of a sentence for no reason at all... "Come line up friends". Furthermore, not all children in the classroom are actually friends with each other, nor do we encourage them to be friends with everyone. We have had really honest conversations with children about what being a friend means, what a "best friend" is (a challenging concept at the age of 4!), and how we can still care about people and treat them with respect even if they are not our "friend".
It has grown easier and easier to replace and eliminate the word from my language the more I reflect on it. Friendship can be very confusing to young children - so much of our year is spent developing their understanding of this concept and their social interactions that I wonder how confusing it is when I ask them to "help their friends clean up" or "join their friends in line".
Another word that I overuse is "special". That is not to say this word shouldn't or can't be used, I think for myself personally just reflecting on how and why I am using it ... not everything is special! "You can use the special markers in the art area". Instead I am beginning to slow down my language and substitute different words...interesting, intriguing, new...(or perhaps the language that matches what it is - instead of special markers - permanent markers).
I know how important it is to be real and honest with children, but there are times that I get caught up and need to reign myself in to reflect on the language I use on a daily basis.
During a staff meeting this week we had a discussion around the best strategy we can use in terms of behaviour management and my response was: clear, consistent language that supports children in understanding what we expect and WHY.
Instead of telling children that during a fire drill we walk quietly and quickly outside - we have a discussion about WHY. The children can then verbalize to others and better understand the importance of why they need to be quiet. We talk about how the firefighters or principals may have a message to share during an emergency.
This brings me back to my favourite intellect... Lilian Katz and reminds me of the messages she shares about being "real" with children. If you don't want them to throw sand, tell them why. Saying "we don't throw sand" is confusing to young children because they definitely DO throw sand, in fact they may have just done it.
I have overhead "we don't hit our friends at school" a few times this year. On so many levels this is a challenging statement. We shouldn't hit people at any time or in any place, but this message could be quite confusing to children. Can we hit our "friends" after school? at home? and it brings back the piece of why....let alone the possible reasons that the student hit in the first place.
Being real with children is probably the best gift that you can give them. Slow down to process what you are going to say to children instead of reactively responding ... something I remind myself more than once on a daily basis! Think critically about all of the language that you use with children and how it is being interpreted, understood, and processed by the young learners we interact with on a daily basis!