Sunday, October 30, 2016

Everybody's Working on Something - Talking About Ability with Young Children

"Everybody is working on something."

Whether you are starting out the year with a completely new group of children or have children who have been with you since summer or the year before, at this point in the year we should have a good sense of what each child can do well and what they may struggle with. While we want to help children feel confident about their abilities, it is also important to help children name the things they find challenging.

Early in my teaching career I was introduced to the book Is it Hard?Is it Easy? by Mary McBurney Green, illustrations by Len Gittleman.  Here is my latest well-loved copy.

I sometimes get a call about a child who is experiencing difficulty the classroom, often behavioral. Sometimes the call is about a group of children who aren't accessing curriculum in quite the way a teacher had hoped.  And teachers are often unsure about if they should talk to children about what they are having difficulty with.  

But we must.  It is especially important to engage children in this conversation.

The first step is to normalize the experience of finding something challenging and showing children that everyone is working on something, that we all have different abilities. This helps each child identify what they find easy and hard, but it also sets the stage for conversations about what peers are working on.  This builds empathy for others and an understanding that everyone needs support in one way or another.

When there is a child in the classroom who experiences difficulty coming to meeting or sitting still, or children have outbursts and behavioral issues, we often skirt around these difficulties with the entire group.  Using a book like this one to foster conversation allows us to say, "It is hard for Cheri to sit at meeting but it is easy for her to add lots of details to her pictures." "It is hard for Michael to control his body all the time but easy for him to do the monkey bars."  Here are some examples from drawings children ages 3-5 did after hearing this book and being asked,

"What is hard for you to do and what is easy for you to do?"  The pages were made into a class books to be read over and over.

When we communicate that everyone is indeed working on something we allay children's fears about the outburst of a peer, the communication skills of a classmate, their awareness of their own difficulties, and teachers now have language to address the inevitable situations where children experience frustration and notice their efforts compared to others.

Some colleagues in Somerville found this video of Is it Hard? Is it Easy? on Youtube. Others read the book and are making their own class books to share.  All classrooms have a range of learners and at a time when were are striving for inclusion being able to speak openly about children's needs creates a level of equity and empathy in our classroom communities.

What are you working on?