Monday, November 02 2015
Never ask a question you don’t want to hear the answer to.” That statement had me thinking back to my first day as a preschool teacher.
It was circle time and I asked the children to gather at the circle rug and sit down crisscross. Gina sat on her knees on the corner of the rug. “Well at least she is sitting,” I said to myself. After the short circle time, I directed the children to different play stations. Gina was directed to the sand table, but headed to the art table. She didn’t ask; she just said in a matter-of-fact manner, “I want to color." Because I knew that coloring was good for Gina’s fine motor development, I allowed her to change to this activity. Gina didn’t want the crayons set out on the table; she wanted the markers on the shelf. I rationalized that markers and crayons were both good tools for fine motor skills, so what did it matter? So I took the markers off the shelf for Gina. Now it was time to clean up for snack time. I asked, “Who wants to clean up for snack time?”
Uh-oh…the first of many meltdowns for Gina began. In fact, during my first week as a preschool teacher Gina gained more and more power. Gina needed to have it her way. Following the daily schedule became a series of power struggles always ending in tears - sometimes Gina’s, sometimes mine.
Nothing I had learned in earning my ECE degree had prepared me for Gina. So, I thought about it. Was it fair for me to give Gina a choice she didn’t really have? When I laid down the law and told her she needed to clean up, I insulted Gina. I had allowed Gina to think she was smarter than I. After all, I allowed her to choose where she sat, how she sat, what activity she wanted and the specific item she wanted to use. In so doing, I allowed Gina to believe she knew best. I taught Gina to think she knew best.
This was when and how my teaching philosophy began. I no longer offered choices to my preschool class. I started each day with ready-made decisions. Children didn’t choose the snack; it was just served. I did not ask students if they wished to wear their coats; I just helped them put them on. I didn’t ask them to sit down for circle time; I told them it was circle time. Of course, Gina hated it. She protested strongly, she refused to play, she refused to eat. But the strangest thing happened when she realized I wouldn’t change the snack choice, despite her protests. She didn’t starve, the food amazingly vanished, she chose to eat the snack of the day. By the end of my third week as a preschool teacher, the arguing and complaining lessened, and Gina simply accepted not having choices as a regular part of life in my classroom. In fact, I’d say the classroom routine was a relief for her. Gina seemed much happier in the preschool classroom than she was bearing the responsibility of choice at home.
Now, that doesn’t mean I didn’t give her any choices. After Gina settled into the pattern of just accepting what was decided for her, she was given age appropriate choices, such as, "What color do you want to color the sky?" or “Would you like the red cup or the blue cup?” Offering these kinds of choices exhibited to Gina my respect for her decisions and individual taste.
My advice is to give children few choices and make sure they are age appropriate. Appropriate choices help children build self-confidence and develop their individual personalities. Giving children too many choices can cause them a great deal of stress and instantly diminishes your authority. Decision-making is a big responsibility and preschool age children need to learn that skill gradually. By setting the schedule, the activity, and the expectation, you’re establishing a good foundation that children can build on. When a child respects an adult as the authority to make decisions, that child is free to learn and grow without the power struggles that accompany a feeling that he must be in control.
And remember, when giving choices, “Never ask a question you don’t want to hear the answer to.”