Lesson Mapping Sample
These are perfect for those of us in the Early Childhood Education field who want to do away with "themes" and "lesson-planning".
Instead of planning what you will do to meet each subject and domain, watch children as they play and engage with the open-ended activities you place in the environment.
Write in the green bubbles what you see them doing/playing, then draw lines to how these activities impact their development (left side) and their academics (right side).
What you'll notice, over time, is that many of the things children do with their play naturally meet most or all of the development aspects. This tool serves to prove to yourself and parents that play is better for children than early academic training.
Click below to download a blank version for yourself!
Here in the states, we have two national pastimes: baseball, and undermining the legitimacy of art. And we're all but obsessed with forcing both of them on our toddlers.
I've always been a life-long hater of Pinterest crafts, even before Pinterest was a thing, and specifically when I was being subjected to them as a child.
When I say "Pinterest Crafts", what I'm referring to are crafts in which teachers do a lot of identical cutting and assembling, and the children get the excitement of offering a couple of doodles, the freedom of gluing some googly eyes onto it, or, if they're lucky, a teacher will paint their hand with tempera and grip their wrist like it's supporting faberge egg, gently stamp it to a sheet of construction paper, and quickly remove all the paint, so as to not imply to this child that doing anything else with paint on your hand is anything less than a mortal sin.
In most early childhood classrooms here, we call that "art" and "free art" is a shelf with blank paper (if they're lucky), worksheets, and coloring pages, and maybe a pail of crayons. Markers, if the teacher really wants people to believe they're an effective disciplinarian.
But, the standards are wearing off. We can't keep making handprint turkeys every year, right? Which obviously means there's only one conclusion. And before anyone tries to suggest just having a diverse collection of art supplies sitting out for children to do with as they please, let me say: butt print pumpkins.
This tried to be a thing in a program I was working at in 2014, and thankfully it was shut down. The funny thing is that teacher who "tried to make butt pumpkins happen" was also the kind of teacher who would scold kids if they haphazardly and unknowingly slipped a hand down their own pants--the kind who would have a heart attack if a girl took her shirt off for water play. The kind who would dump the water table out between children out of fear of dysentery. Perhaps you can point out the hypocrisy.
Now, this is targeted more for infants. And yes, I do agree that getting a handprint or fingerprint or footprint is a wonderful and valued keepsake about these early years, and I do think that it's fun and lovely for teachers to give parents these gifts a few times throughout their time in the program. But for the sake of all that is holy, don't call it the children's "art" for the day (or the week) and don't start lathering children's butts with paint. It's gross, it's violating, and it's super time consuming.
Instead, whether you've got infants, toddlers, or preschoolers, assemble a sizeable collection of safe materials they can explore on their own. Art is about doing things that come from you, not the internet.
And if you really, really want to do a cute craft, call it a craft and make that a supplementary activity to the actual, free art you've got available to the children. And leave their damn butts out of it.
One of the more sweltering questions I catch from teachers, when I describe my philosophy, is how on earth I could possibly approach children who “do not follow directions”. The assumption, I believe, is that when you trust children to engage with their childhood in a natural setting, all hell is ordained to break loose, and children will be dangling from the rafters and driving stakes through each other’s hearts, because without constant adult interference, children are reckless, self-destructive animals. It’s startling to me how educated adults can simultaneously be aware that 50 million years of evolutionary data in our bodies have made us incredibly self-preservative and resilient creatures, but also believe that we, as adults, are the single barrier between children and death, destruction, and anarchy.
The phrase “follow directions” sounds reasonable enough; when I hear it, I imagine a child running wildly with scissors in her hand and a teacher walking over to the child, and coolly explaining the reasons how and why that’s hazardous, that the teacher cares profoundly for the child and doesn’t want them to get injured, and then directing the child how to safely grip the scissors going forward. When people say it though, that’s generally not the scenario they have in mind. See, they’re not talking about giving directions to help guide children on their own tasks, they’re talking about brazenly barking orders to control children and enforce compliance. If that sounds overly forceful and authoritative, it’s because most of the time, it is. The hard truth to swallow is that we mistreat children on a widespread scale under the guise of “training them up” or “discipline”. We value compliance in our children, and for some reason we keep declining to learn the lesson of just how treacherous that is.
Setting up a precedent for a child that they are to comply and “follow the directions of” any adult whose care their parents place them in should, just at the surface, raise at least fifty red flags. We know children are abused more often by people their parents know and trust—most of the time family members—and children are frequently thrust into recurring victim roles because they feel compelled to comply with their abuser’s instructions in performing the abuse and comply with their abuser’s instructions in keeping the abuse secret. We cannot expect children to be able to decipher whose authority reigns over them when we consistently push the narrative that “adults are correct and must correct you when you’re bad”. But, like any manipulation strategy, this notion is supported by reasonable sounding arguments—just reasonable enough to continue this unfortunate trend.
Ask any teacher why children “need” to learn to “follow directions” and you might have your ear talked right off. Ask any teacher when the last time they truly “followed directions” they thought were professionally assistive was, and you might hear crickets. Ask any childcare director how they feel about their regulations, and you’ll start to notice, the whole idea of following others’ directions in adulthood isn’t very respected. So, why on earth do we believe it’s some skill children need to possess?
I hear quite often that learning to follow directions aides in children’s learning because it sets up an environment where children value the patterns and chronology of learning. Children must follow directions on how to make this shape so that they can make this letter. In reality, however, we know that children already recognize and value patterns and chronology, to an extent that we as adults often mistake as chaotic or spontaneous, but which is far more profound and which evolves into a heightened comprehension of presented concepts, because the connections were made genuinely and naturally.
The other argument is that children “need” to learn to “follow directions” because the directions are meant to neutralize the environment for optimal group focus. Things like sitting on the floor, at your desk, or standing in line “the right way” or knowing “when to be quiet” are purported to be life-long academic skills, when in reality, we know the greatest academics in history are and were the kinds of people to whom these types of rules struck as restrictive and arbitrary. We can blame the corporations who fund the tests we use to evaluate our schools and therefore sponsor the curricula we use in our districts because they want to build compliant future employees, but the problem truly is deeper than that: we don’t know how to teach anymore.
Ditch Skinner, and ditch everything you know about him, or were taught in your teaching program about him, unless you are now a dog trainer. A good portion of teachers engage in behaviors that look less like teaching and more like training—or, conditioning—and while, for the most part, their real-time results seem rationally apparent, the fact of the matter is that because conditioning doesn’t involve any kind of executive functioning for the conditioned party, it’s pointedly not the same as learning.
Conditioning can happen a number of ways, but it always relies on the power of the party doing the conditioning. It’s how we train dogs, and, for some reason, how we feel obligated to teach kids. We can condition with what might look like positive reinforcement, but when used on children, such action also requires a looming fear of a negative deterrent. For instance: behavior charts. Teachers can say “it’s positive reinforcement because I reward children who are ‘good’ by placing them on the green,” but they’re also relying on children fearing being placed on the “red”, so it’s not really positive reinforcement. Frame it however you like, it’s just not positive reinforcement.
When children are caught up with desiring the currency of a manufactured reward or fearing the humiliation of a punitive deterrent, the subtext as to why they’re learning what they’re learning, how to apply it to their daily life, and how to expand on it in the future is lost in that transaction. If I’m sitting still and “turning on my listening ears” because I’m afraid of being placed “on red” or losing my recess, I am not making any vital connections with the concepts I’m being presented with, and I’m certainly not making any life-long connections to being a team player for my future employer, I’m just afraid of being humiliated and will do what it takes to avoid that.
I believe anyone who is called to the teaching profession—myself included—is susceptible to conditioning as a strategy for completing the horribly involved task of implementing an institutionalized curriculum, so none of this is to say that all teachers are horrible and the school system is set out to abuse children. That’s very much so not the case. Circulatory and institutional misguidance is part of the fabric that weaves through the parts of teaching and education as a field that rely on science. It’s very easy to tumble into this groove of desperately needing children to stop acting like children so you can complete the unit and not be punished for unfavorable test scores. That part of the system is decidedly broken, no matter where you stand. Teaching has to be an act of love—an act of sharing.
This act of love can’t necessarily be lectured into existence. It starts with constructing sturdy relationships with each child, as well as tending to and maintaining those relationships over time. When you’re teaching as an act of sharing, the incentive for a child to follow your lead and flow with your guidance is that the child respects you and knows—whether or not they can articulate it—that you have their best interest at heart. Sure, there may still be a deterrent to where the child may fear disappointing you, but that can subside with time if you just simply permit them to disappoint you and prove to them that you won’t allow that to shape how you perceive them as a human being, and that you’re there to help.
Most importantly, when we learn from people we respect, whom we feel are here to encourage and inspire us, whom we know will let us expand on our own to build upon our education ourselves, that knowledge is more likely to stick with us forever.
So what can we do as educators to change this? It sounds simple but in reality, it’s too complicated to even fathom at face value, and requires a personal, unduplicable journey for each educator:
We have to shift our expectations of children to be more in line with each child personally, and a more comprehensive understanding of their development, and not allow children behaving like children to stress us out.
We have to defer our sense of self-importance and refuse to demand reverence and respect.
We have to focus on building authentic relationships with children.
We have to understand that trust and respect are things you earn, and you don’t earn them by punishing people or sending harsh notes home when they aren’t giving it to you.
And finally, the part I find the hardest, is opening the lines of communication with parents to take responsibility when our relationships with children are lacking: rather than “your child refuses to follow directions”, “we’re working on building our trust and respect to where we can accomplish our individual goals together and here’s how we can do that moving forward”.
Because that’s what the world needs right now.
by Travis Tagart
We in the Early Childhood Education field, especially those of us who are trying to professionalize the concept of play-based education, have a lot of fancy words to sidestep the word "toy". Materials, parts, enrichment, whatever you want to call them--I'm talking about the objects in the classroom that children may use to work (play) with.
But what if there weren't any? What if you walked into an early learning environment and just saw... nothing? Such was the case for the children and parents in our program a few weeks ago. You see, we have a group of kids who are specifically independent, whose play scenarios have deepened so much over time that any new toy added to the environment becomes a casualty of apathy.
This will happen to you every once in a while, where you have a group of children so connected with one another that interpersonal play needs no props--children who just want to play pretend. All day. Every day. Children who are far more interested in the imagination they can act out and squeeze out of each other that toys and materials are devalued because, well, they're not valuable aspects of the scenario. Trouble is, if you're like us, you might not realize that at first.
To us, we struggled with what we were convinced were behavior problems. It seemed every day we were losing about 5% of our materials inventory to children just purposefully breaking them, and in a program whose three rules are "Don't hurt yourself, don't hurt others, and don't hurt property", having 1/3 of the rules continuously broken was beginning to stress teachers out. It felt as though the children were being disrespectful because they couldn't take a toy off the shelf without at least attempting to shatter it. Something had to be done.
We brainstormed. Why are they doing this? Maybe they're bored. When are they doing this? All the time! Then, "what are they playing?" Pretend.
All hours of the day--pretend. Maybe they're seeing all these toys, materials, and loose parts as distractions because they think they're supposed to be doing something with them, but they know they don't care about them nor do they want them involved. We observed a bit.
After a transition, the kids would disperse through the environment and take items from the shelves, and immediately be caught up in games of pretend, abandoning what they had just dumped out for something deeper and more meaningful. Then, in the midst of pretend, running around, toys were getting--you guessed it--stepped on. And by the time transitions were started, a good portion of these toys that were only taken from the shelves because the children thought they needed to get something out were being shoved anywhere and everywhere, including the trash. We knew the problem, and we knew the solution, but the solution is a little scary.
We removed all materials from the classroom. The plan was that when the children returned to the classroom, we would continue business as usual, and only fetch toys and materials if a child asks for something. We put up a sign so parents would know we were being mindful, not neglectful. What happened next was unexpected to say the least.
Nobody asked for a single toy or material back.
The books stayed in the classroom.
Art stayed in the classroom.
Blocks, dramatic play materials, and various loose parts--nobody asked for any of it back. This interest in interpersonal prop-free play was so powerful it completely removed the need for exogenous stimuli during the scenarios. It took a whole two weeks for blocks to make a return. Someone even called Nebraska DHHS to complain, at which point we had a lot of unprofessional opinions from a DHHS representative (with no background in ECE) we've never met before telling us how bored our children running around in capes were, because active children apparently implies they're bored in this too-far-gone compliance-based culture. I digress.
We learned a lot about the children in our program with this project. We learned a lot about ourselves as educators with this project. And the children learned what we wish they would have known originally, which is that you don't need to get something out. You don't need to look busy. You can just start by playing with each other. We don't expect that materials have to be part of the equation. That stasis is not the goal. A quiet, compliant, individually engaged, and busy-work-loaded classroom is not our goal, nor our expectation--and that should never be expected of a group of children at all.
You can do this, too, even if your state has a requirement about what needs to be in your classroom. I've helped quite a few programs do this in states like this. If your licensing body pitches a fit, you can pitch one right back, but be sure to be loaded with ammunition--information about what you're doing and the intention behind it. They cannot prevent you from doing what's best for children. Do not live in fear.
Take the leap--you'll be glad you did it.
A few years ago, a statistic floated around the internet as a glaring reminder to us all to hug the nearest teacher to us because they're underpaid, overworked, and severely under-appreciated. The statistic was that half of new teachers leave the profession within the first five years of entering it. Now, while you should still be hugging the nearest teacher to you and whispering affirmations into their ears, because they truly are underpaid, overworked, and under-appreciated--but the 50% figure is wrong. It's more like 17%. Even so, and even considering 17% is still pretty high considering these are people who just spent a minimum of four years acquiring debt and eating ramen to get the qualifications to join this profession, we're all pretty quick to believe that 50% number. And for good reason.
I talk a lot about my distrust in the way teachers are being educated these days. When I was working to obtain a degree in Early Childhood Education, there were no classes offered that focused directly on play or the types of play, but I was required to take semester long courses in presenting subjects and material to children, lesson-planning, and classroom "management". All things we know thanks to research should not be a part of Early Childhood Education at all. I believe that degrees in Education are very easy degrees to come by. They take work, but not a lot. There's a lot to cover, but none of it's really challenging. One could theoretically enter college looking to study education, go in believing that children learn through intimidation and competition, and come out with a degree in-hand, never having that belief challenged. The reality of the field, however, as that teacher you're now gently caressing knows, is not easy. It's not a cakewalk. They might even be inclined to agree that what they went through in college didn't prepare them for what it's really like.
So take frazzled and stressed new teachers (17% or more of whom quit within their first five years), an already-dwindling interest in Education as a college major, and increasing media outcry regarding the teacher pay and expectations, and you've got yourself a pretty nice teacher shortage. Now, I'm not one to jump on the poor-teachers bandwagon completely. While I've already stated twice and am about to type again that teachers are undoubtedly underpaid, overworked, and under-appreciated, I don't exactly think this is deserving of as much public outrage as social media makes it seem.
You see, nobody who should be in this profession enters this profession expecting to make a more-than-decent amount of money. The National Education Association reported that the national average starting salary for teachers is a little over $36,000 (but CHRIST, Montana, how is someone supposed to live on $27,274 after getting a degree?). It's also not exactly a secret that education requires long hours. Of course, I'm sure many educators if given limited hours would still spend a lot of their spare time on work-related tasks because that's just how caregiving personalities roll, and of course I wish that they didn't have to waste time that could be spent on impactful tasks and self-reflection that don't include test-prep or grading busy-work. Plus, caregiving personalities either do know, or learn the hard way that working with children and adolescents is the equivalent of being an emotional charging station. You give a lot of your emotional being to kids and you don't really get it back, so you have to recharge yourself on your own time, and because even half-way through the day our power-banks can be empty, teachers rarely find the time or energy to appreciate each other. It's not fun, but it's the dirty part of this dirty job and it's not something you should have to spend $40,000-80,000 to figure out doesn't work for you. So, what if you didn't have to?
A bill is being introduced to the Nebraska legislature that allows the board of education develop rules and regulations by which to hand out teaching certificates to individuals who have simply earned college credit in "humanities, social and natural sciences, mathematics, or career and technical education", and who have additionally "earned college credit, or its equivalent in professional education, for particular teaching, special services, or administrative assignments", who can additionally pass a background check, who have additionally had human relations training or experience, who also have prior experience in "successful teaching, administration, or provision of special services", and who (above all?) possess "moral, mental, and physical fitness for teaching, all in accordance with sound educational practices."
This bill would allow a very specific group of people to qualify for teaching certificates--people with specific fields of study who want to teach or share those fields, people with trade knowledge--like a real-life woodworker who wants to teach shop or an auto mechanic who wants to teach mechanics. This bill would also be the equivalent of a job interview not requiring a degree, but for you to check the box "some college". To a lot of people, this very understandably might seem like devaluation of personnel, or a general standards-lowering for education, but I argue that this sounds exactly like what we should be doing.
In practice, I believe that neither a degree nor a teaching certificate are what make quality teachers. as I've mentioned, the ease of education-related degree programs and the process for obtaining teaching certificates do little to weed out ideologically unqualified and incompetent persons from possible employment pools in this, one of the most important and consequential public service professions. When I say ideologically unqualified, what I mean are adults who do not embrace childhood, who expect conformity and compliance out of children, whose expectations of are not developmentally appropriate, and/or whose attitudes are not cohesive to the general concept of a positive environment.
A bill like this merely grants the school board authority to disambiguate the ambiguities in the bill, such as what training qualifies and what does not. There, depending on what in-service qualifies, and who is overseeing the quality of experiential learning these teaching candidates are receiving, I would be inclined to say this could be an overwhelmingly successful idea to not only fill empty positions, but to ensure that people are there for the right reasons, and not just because they're stuck with it thanks to their degree.
We like to place teachers on par with doctors and lawyers because these are all crucial professions which afford us basic human rights. A dear friend of mine noted to me that we wouldn't want the education requirements of those other professions to include people who merely acquired college credit. I believe that this field differs from being a doctor or a lawyer in that the more immediate, pressing human rights concerns and liability do not require intensive and rigorous education to comprehend. It's about keeping children safe and doing what's right for their wellbeing, not about successfully diagnosing an illness so that a person doesn't die or appropriately presenting a case so that justice is served. All of the pressing human rights concerns faced by educators--abuse, neglect, starvation, homelessness, etc.--could be adequately covered at one conference, and even then, "how to respond to your hunch that a child is being beaten at home" is a lesson you can only truly learn when you're unfortunately placed in it. I view the role of the educator to be a mix between artist and scientist. The qualifications for both of those are far more lenient and open than doctor or lawyer. Artists and scientists must, above all things, be curious, be aware, and be documenting.
I disillusioned myself from the idea of degrees when I opened my childcare centers. I have in that time employed 13 who have degrees in education-related fields from Early Childhood to Elementary to Special Education. All but three parted-ways-with because they had little passion for childhood or any type of education that embraces developmentally appropriate practice, which, to me, made them ideologically unfit to be good with and for the children in our care, despite their degrees. When I speak at education conferences, the number of administrators representing common sense education (research-based) who have overwhelmingly positive experiences with certificated/degreed teachers is extremely low.
That's not to say that having a degree is useless and everyone should stop trying to get one. A degree is an important document in that it shows that you've invested in a career, which holds a lot of weight about how serious a person is about it, but I don't think in this specific field that that investment means that a person is more qualified than someone else who embraced an alternative form of education or preparation for this career.
When you come to work for me, your degree and your certificate might as well be in shreds on the floor because when it comes to being an educator, what matters is what you're able to prove, and the palpable experiences you've had to lead you to me. What matters is what kind of person you are. What matters is your passion. What matters is your drive. What matters is how committed you are to being a life long learner (always reading, always researching, always attending trainings, always trying new things), because you may even be surprised how many people believe their degree exempts them from any further knowledge.
I would definitely view an educator who frequents conferences and symposiums, studies and researches the field often, and has a definite passion for the field to hold a more valuable education than someone who obtained their degree and only begrudgingly attends professional development days.
This is an ever-evolving scientific and artistic practice that should attract passionate people of all walks of life, not just those privileged enough to go to and complete college, and not just those who went to college specifically for education. Anyone who is committed to life long learning, is gentle and kind, is moral, and is passionate should qualify.
But it's our job, as citizens, not to attack bills like this, but to hold the disambiguating parties who then determine the more intricate details (such as who decides what training qualifies, how they intend to ensure this law won't be taken advantage of in favor of hiring "warm bodies" who can be paid less) and the individual(s) in charge of hiring teachers in your local school district accountable for the people they hire to ensure they're always hiring the best possible candidates for the children in your community.
This is a change worth making. But like any, it would take work. Simply destroying a bill like this is the easy way out. So hug your teacher friend one more time. Teachers deserve lots of hugs. And American children deserve lots of teachers.
I’ve seen it time and time again. I saw it today, in fact. I watch, almost helplessly, as a teacher struggles to convince a child to cooperate with them for a task, activity, or general expectation. The child is obviously having none of it, but the teacher behaves as though giving up is the same as giving in. A deadlock—a power struggle—two humans who desire power: a child who wants power over their own behavior, a teacher who wants power over the child’s behavior. It can end a few different ways:
“Can you tell me what just happened?” I ask.
“Well, you know, he’s a challenging kid.” They might say.
“What about his behavior challenges you?” I ask.
“Well, it’s not really his fault. His parents are getting divorced, so, it’s no wonder he’s so bad.”
Or a general sentiment/complaint I hear from teachers follows a truly troubling formula:
“I can’t be expected to __________ if the child isn’t getting ___________ at home.”
Some examples of this include:
“I can’t be expected to help him learn if the child isn’t getting motivated at home.”
“I can’t be expected to get him to behave if the child isn’t getting disciplined at home.”
“I can’t be expected to cover my curriculum if the child isn’t getting consistency at home.”
It’s like a surgeon saying “I can’t be expected to repair this organ if the patient isn’t eating well home.”
It’s like a pilot saying “I can’t be expected to fly this plane if the passengers aren’t preparing for their vacation at home.”
We are social creatures. Our entire lives are not defined by the way we live out our home lives. Sure, a child who is being abused or neglected at home may lash out more—may be more challenging behaviorally—but that is an explanation of their behavior, not an excuse for an educator’s inability to connect with them.
A child who isn’t expected to clean up at home, given a teacher who connects with them and facilitates with them a relationship of trust and respect, will clean up at school.
A child who isn’t expected to be respectful at home, given a teacher who connects with them and facilitates with them a relationship of trust and respect, will be respectful at school.
A child who isn’t being well-supported through a change in family dynamic at home, given a teacher who connects with them and facilitates with them a relationship of trust and respect, will behave well in school.
A child’s ability to behave in school depends on just a few factors, and none of them have anything to do with their home life:
It’s really as simple as this. So instead of jumping to defend our skills as educators, let’s stop citing home life for our own shortcomings, recognize that we are capable of making situations worse than they need to be, and do everything we can to do right by the children we serve.
They are our bosses, after all.
If it’s not too traumatizing for you, imagine it’s Monday. It comes time to transition out of a free play session and into a meal or outdoor play and you realize the classroom has just disintegrated into a disaster. Sure, you might think to yourself, “wow, I probably should have stayed on top of this!” but it’s Monday. It’s your free-pass, right? You instruct children that it’s time to clean up and you can tell from the second those words pass your lips; they’re not having any of that nonsense. Clean up? What a foreign concept! Why? What’s wrong with it like this?
It feels like an impasse, but eventually you see that there’s really just a fork in the road. There are two paths for you: accept your fate, proceed with the transition anyway and return to the classroom later to be the ideal mitigating force that makes conscious choices to curb the amount of mess that winds up everywhere in the midst of play (by periodically moving items children are no longer playing with)—or—stand your ground and demand that the group clean their mess, even if it were to take an hour, or even two. For some people, it’s really hard to accept that the former is ideal. You could rationalize the latter pretty easily with your adult brain: “I didn’t make the mess, so I shouldn’t have to clean it up—that’s not my job!”
I’m here to tell you: it is your job.
When I give my speaking engagements and trainings, often times I present my audience with a list of critical affirmations we as educators must believe in in order to be most effective in this job, and as healthy and positive a force for the young people who look to us for protection and guidance as we possibly can be. Today, I’ll focus on three good affirmations:
Everything that transpires or could possibly transpire in a classroom is part of the job. See, most of us have easily accepted that poop and vomit is part of the job we signed up for, but for some reason very few of us have accepted things that I personally find far less horrifying: loud noises, big messes, children who question authority, being a cook, being a janitor, being a caregiver.
If I could count the number of times I’ve been involved in a scenario in the classroom, or walked in to work for the day to find myself thrust into a scenario where I feel like the world stops, the camera zooms in on my face and I say “I didn’t sign up for this,” I’d have tally marks tattooed to my back as a reminder that I am a damn saint.
One day, as children were running around in circles throughout the hallways of my first program, after I had just finished helping a child calm himself out of a situation where he lost control of his body, I played the part of the embattled, worn, broken teacher as I approached my co-teacher, as if I’d just been through the trenches. As I was just about to complain about how difficult that was, the group of running children ran past us and one of them separated from the group to bend down in front of us and pick something up. He said, “I didn’t know we had brown play-dough!”
Now, if you’ve ever worked in a child-care program, you probably know what happens next. If you haven’t, here’s a hint: We didn’t have any brown play-dough.
Phantom poop showing up out of nowhere on the floor, a child picking it up, and the ensuing chaos is not in the job description, sure. But if it happens, it’s still part of the job. But sometimes our issues are more than with the children—we become frustrated with our coworkers.
I am the only person I can control. Openers and closers in a childcare classroom or center are the unsung heroes of the profession. Their job, though the same as any other teacher or educator in the program, has a more janitorial aspect. There are more chores, and despite being more chores, still have all the same expectations of the average daytime teacher. That’s an unfortunate reality that can’t exactly be changed except to lighten their load by requesting daytime teachers or teachers who leave later in the day pick up some of those chores. Even so, the sources of messes and unpredictability remain in the care of openers and closers while they’re tasked with these chores.
Still, cleaning is part of their job, too. Yes, it’s unfortunate because for some of us it’s not the most fun job. No, it’s not exactly fair that you have to clean messes that you likely didn’t make, or that other teachers throughout the day could have cleaned themselves. At the (literal) end of the day, though, it’s the job you’re expected to do, and that falls on your shoulders if it doesn’t get done, no matter how much you think simply not doing it falls on the people you feel should have done it in the first place.
I’m a big fan of confronting the people you have a problem with yourself. This idea that we must bring it to a boss’s attention for them to handle is so backwards it hurts. Nothing creates a more hostile environment for a teacher than a manager approaching them to tell them their co-teacher has an issue with something they do. Don’t like that Jim didn’t pick up dinosaurs? Tell him that it disadvantaged you and come up with a solution together. Don’t like that someone keeps forgetting to replace toilet paper? Approach people face to face to remind them. Telling a manager and their ensuing indictment of everyone on an even scale is belittling and demeaning to everyone in the long-run. In addition, voicing your issues with the people you feel trigger them will create a more accountable environment, where people will understand the implications of their behavior firsthand, which is important, because…
How I behave impacts everyone. This one’s a little harder to disambiguate because if you get it, you get it. If you don’t get it, you don’t get it. It requires a great deal of empathy, which the world of time-outs, detentions, suspensions, shaming, and the refusal of body autonomy to children tried to strip of all of us growing up. If you’re finding it difficult to be empathic in this job, perhaps this isn’t the career for you—and that’s okay. Coming to that realization is part of recognizing your impact and making a choice that ensures your presence has a positive impact on everyone, children and adults, even if that means your choice is no longer being there.
This job is exciting. This job is diverse. This job is complex. This job is deep. This job is dynamic. This job is anything but expectable or mundane, so the idea that we would think we know what’s going on or that we’ve figured it all out for half a second should be alien—a foreign concept. We’re helping children build themselves from the ground up. Our energy should enrich the atmosphere of the environment, and that includes expecting the unexpected—accepting that it’s part of the job.
...as mindfully as possible. Please reread the title while we're at it. It says "Let Your Kids Say Bad Words", not "Encourage Your Children to Say Bad Words".
by Travis Tagart
I've been thinking a lot about pedagogy involving "words" today, and it seems that perfect examples have been popping up nonstop lately as if demanding for me to reflect on my practice, the style of parenting and teaching I teach, and my own parenting choices in the future.
I wholeheartedly believe you should let your kids say "shit" and "fuck".
Douse the torches, hang up the pitch forks, and breathe for a second. I'll be reminding you throughout all of this to stop for a breath.
Any socially-conscious parent/teacher may find themselves in a predicament where we both want to teach children that (a) words matter and have the power to hurt people/contribute negatively to unstable sociological infrastructures, and (b) words are utterly meaningless and only have power that is assigned to them in their context. It's that volatile mixture of wanting children to be gentle, soft, and kind while also wanting them to be tough and outspoken. Of course, nobody wants to hear a child say words that are used to oppress people unless they are old enough to place them into scenarios where they are contextually appropriate. That I can respect and do believe is right. However, when it comes to those three- and four-letter conversational placeholder words, there's a little more room for exploration. Every parent of a parrot-like toddler should be excited when they repeat words. Any words. Remember that, because it gets slightly more socially complex as they hit 3, 4, and 5 and into the school-age realm.
You see, you don't want to teach children that those commonly-used words are inherently "bad" and that they're "bad" or "wrong" for ever saying them, because then, if they happen to overhear a respected adult talk to another respected adult and use one of those words, the thought occurs: "Is my uncle Travis a bad person?" That train of though is likely, but what's more likely is just complete and utter confusion at the inconsistency that it's acceptable for adults to say certain words that children cannot.
All poor behavior choices (that are not just developmentally appropriate behaviors that adults are selfishly unable or too weak to deal with) stem from some sort of expectational or environmental inconsistency.
Let's imagine a household wherein a mother and father speak to each other while frequently using conversational curse words. They use curse words with others over the phone. With houseguests. One day, their child says "I'm fuckin' tired" and is immediately reprimanded... WHAT? Why this reaction to a child using words he's exposed to--words we all hear and most of us use on a daily basis? Well, it has a bit to do with how we objectify children, and a bit to do with how we use children to assert our position in our classes... And, unfortunately (or fortunately?), I charge for my childrearing history workshop, so here's an expedited version, just for you:
Most of what we consider commonplace parenting hinges on the assumption that children are not officially people until they're no longer minors. They're property of their parents. They belong to their parents. They are physical manifestations of their parents' skill, ability, worth, social class, and intelligence. Of course, none of that is feasibly appropriate. It's downright stupid and dehumanizing. This view of the child is why we have children whose parents send them to preschool in expensive clothes and shoes and are mortified when their child is returned to them with a single stain, let alone an appropriate layer of mud and paint.
If we want to get as broad as possible, adults are discomforted by the sound of a cursing child because those words exert power and our society and its trajectory over the past seven hundred years (long before America existed, let alone had a "school system" to blame) have taught us that children are supposed to be obedient, powerless, submissive pets.
A little more technically, and from a less introspective point of view, we can presume based on this that adults are discomforted by the sound of a child cursing because it's so unheard of. It's so unheard of because we can't imagine a world where a parent would feel comfortable with people knowing their child knows or has ever heard a curse word. We can't imagine that world because we believe that if our children curse, it makes us look bad. And by golly, can you think of anything worse than other people judging you? Does not being judged truly make up for your choice to rob your child of developmentally appropriate experiences and a vital understanding of a large aspect of cultural linguistics in their society? If so, have you stopped to think about a pride problem?
Perhaps maybe if we weren't obsessed with using children to make ourselves look good, we'd reverse the horrors of academic pushdown. We'd bring back recess. We'd bring back play as the only vehicle for authentic learning. And, for the purposes of this reflection, we'd be engaging with children in a more developmentally appropriate manner, helping them explore words and meanings so that they are less likely to regurgitate arbitrarily assigned "unpleasant" words for the purpose of shock and awe and expand their vocabulary to where those words feel too simple to convey their thoughts most of the time. Let it be a part of their lexicon, and provide them with experiences that add more original and clever descriptors, adjectives, adverbs, etc. to it than what society may or may not deem "unpleasant".
Children are people, completely autonomously separate from their parents, and while their personalities may be influenced by the behaviors of the adults around them, there's no evidence to suggest that your choice to buy them blocks will lead to a career in architecture, no evidence that your choice to give them baby dolls will lead to a career in parenting or medicine, and no evidence that your choice to not censor your authentic linguistic patterns will turn them into hooligans that curse like sailors to any and everyone they meet. You want to know what REALLY makes kids frivolously throw out curse words at inappropriate times and in inappropriate places? Shielding them from those very words.
Dad stubs his toe walking up the stairs to put his child to bed. He shouts "Aw, shit--I mean, shoot!".
Child repeats "Shit!"
Dad says, "no, don't say that, that's a bad word!"
And just like that, boom. Case closed. Beyond the confusion and inconsistency,
The more you say "no" to something, the more enticing it is. And just like all behavior management, if you're the "punish rather than discipline" type (or even worse, the "punishment is discipline" type), your punishments don't stop the words from being said, they just stop the words from being said... around you...
Is it ever appropriate to curse? I personally curse when I'm extremely passionate about something. I curse when I'm happy and joyful, or confused and vulnerable, and yes, when I'm sad or angry. Believing some words are "bad" makes it really only useful when you're experiencing "negative" emotions as a means of asserting dominance and power (because those words give you power, right?), which is arguably one of the least productive times to use them, especially if you're trying to resolve something with someone. So why not strip the words of their power and, instead, help children understand where and when it's appropriate to use those words? At home? With friends? However you decide to permit them should be consistent with your own pattern of using them, or the patterns they're most likely to see.
I know at least 4 children in my life who, when prompted with the question, "what are bedrooms for?" will respond something along the lines of, "sleeping, playing, bad words, and touching yourself". Perhaps there's a good rule of thumb for your family?
Part of what's important about navigating other people's expectations for how you are supposed to behave in a social situation is being able to "read the room", and overarching rules like "don't say that, it's a bad word" don't help us when we're adults and we have something we want to convey. It's hard to balance the idea that we shouldn't conform to what people want us to be with the idea that we do want to assimilate in order to build strong social structures. I get that. But if you don't want your kid to curse because it might offend people or scare people who would have otherwise been their friends... envision for your children to make friends who aren't so weak and fragile, perhaps.
I know I'm normally speaking to early childhood teachers, so let me make sure I say that none of this is to say it's appropriate for teachers to curse in the classroom. It's, for many reasons, not acceptable. Ultimately, exposure to these words, concepts, and ideas should be a choice made by parents. However, how you deal with children who curse in the classroom should be mindful of the fact that it's not a big fuckin' deal. I personally don't ever curse amongst the children in my program or at programs I visit because I never have felt the need to do so. It doesn't seem authentic because I try to use as expansive of a vocabulary as I possibly can amongst them, and as authentically/organically as possible.
In my life, I really only authentically curse in conversation amongst friends, some of whom do have children, and may overhear. So long as they are observing where we feel comfortable using them (the car, the living room, walking around the mall) and where we don't choose to (the dinner table, at school, in crowded areas) they will pick up on the social cues because, ultimately, they are capable of doing so.
Corporate Educational Structures Don't Just Turn Children into Numbers, They Turn Teachers into Hypocrites
I'm back! It's been a while since I've written here, as I've been swamped and going one hundred miles per hour with the new center, but I did feel it to be incredibly important to write about something I've been thinking about over the past few weeks: childcare is not an office job.
So often, we want to structure the way our programs work as employers in the way other professional employers--even schools--do. We want there to be a clear and definite hierarchy, each having its own rights, purposes, and duties. We want there to be a centralized location where questions, complaints, and conversations can happen, perhaps in part to take that load off of others' shoulders, but more likely so that nobody says "the wrong thing".
I don't know about any other states' environmental norms in the childcare field, but I can tell you that it's not uncommon for large childcare programs in my state to be hostile work environments, sometimes due to unkind or overstressed administrators, but more commonly due to conflict amongst teachers.
Prior to starting my own program, I had worked at only one center where I wasn't constantly getting complained to about how horrible this job is, how horrible the kids are, how horrible that teacher in the next room is. It was like high school. The complaining and badmouthing would fester and fester, reach a boiling point, and that's when someone would go to the administrator to file a complaint about the person they didn't like.
For instance, I started in a program where I was asked to overhaul disciplinary practices. Everything was going extremely well. I was having a blast, my coworkers were kind and receptive, and the parents were seeing positive changes in the dynamic of the classroom. This was fantastic, until one day, the director sat me down and said, "Look, [other 4-5's teacher from a different room] is upset because you've changed so much in your room and she feels like you're changing too much because your classes are doing completely different things every day". I was dumbfounded. Not that this was a ridiculous thing to be upset about (because it was ridiculous), and not because it was outrageous that my director was humoring it (because it was outrageous)--I was dumbfounded because I couldn't have just been told, in person, by the person who had the problem with me.
Good practice in child development revolves around trusting children--that they can solve their own problems or know how to get the right tools to solve their own problems. To me, that also means that if a child comes to me to "tattle" on another child, I say, "do you have the right words to talk to her about it?" rather than jumping in and fixing the problem. It just hurts that often times, we as adults can't meet that expectation ourselves.
Part of it has to do with having these corporate structures and hierarchies. We're so afraid of conflict that we think having a human resources person means the issue can be brought out before it becomes a conflict. I believe, however, that once there is an issue, it is a conflict, and only the people experiencing the issue or are impacted personally by the issue should be on a quest to resolve it. Nothing is more frustrating than being "told on". Nothing makes a conflict more severe than being "told on". Being complained about to an administrative body only serves to contribute to a hostile work environment. I can promise you no misunderstandings, general disliking someone, or heated conflicts have really been resolved by bringing the boss into the equation. Perhaps calmed, perhaps thrown into a resentful silent treatment, but never resolution.
So how do we solve conflicts with our coworkers? Well, we can model what we want to see children do. If someone is complaining about their job and their complaining is annoying you, use your words! "If you have an issue with your job description, I would really like you to talk to administration, not me." If someone is telling embarrassing stories about the teacher down the hall? "I would really prefer you not talk about my coworkers like that, it's disrespectful." If someone is taking too long of a break? "Hey, your break went over its time today." Sure it might be awkward right then and there, but I can promise you it's only going to be 100 times more awkward if your boss has to tell the other teacher that you have a problem with them.
Also? If you're going to be the complaining type, just save the complaining about your job, coworkers, or administrators for sometime other than the time you're supposed to be caring for children. They don't need to be there for that. However, if you're in the room with someone who does choose to complain, you have the responsibility of modeling to the children that that behavior isn't healthy, right, or conducive to a positive environment by requesting that it stop, because simply nodding and throwing in a "wow" or "okay" here and there is the kindling that keeps that fire going. Enabling bad behavior is a bad behavior, right?
Use your words!
Our posts are created by several early childhood professionals. Most stories will include the author's name and a link to their "About Me" or the program they own or represent.