The Child-Centered Classroom

Encouraging Student Point of View and Participation for 2-5 Years Olds

By MahaJyoti Glassman

How can we as teachers, while encouraging young ones to participate in class, refocus our “arrows” to target the child’s interest? Does the information shared by a child absolutely always have to be absolutely correct? Could it be that information expressed in the beginning early learning stage of life is more important than the “rightness” or “wrongness” of it?

Sometimes as early childhood educators, we find ourselves micromanaging young children with our education goals. But if the activities and lesson plans are based on the interests of the students themselves, what happens? When students have some personal ownership of the curriculum direction, they become highly motivated learners. In allowing communication to “run wild” with perhaps some guidance from the teacher from time to time, children become leaders and grow in personal confidence as they experiment with brainstorming, problem solving and extending their learning opportunities on their own terms.

Questions are particularly encouraged during book reading time, with those traditional questions of what, who, where, how, why. How did this character feel? How could this have been done differently? The caregiver addresses students by name as they raise their hands to reinforce their turn-taking skills. (Yes, even a 2 year old can do this!) While book reading time may be a regular scheduled event, teachers may be attentive to additional times during the day when a book can be read randomly, spontaneously, maybe we will all be on our tummies. How can book reading time be done differently?

The teacher who is supportive of this stage of personal growth may follow along with the student ideas and allow the student to lead the way, building activities to extend the child’s experience. “Because Linda is so interested in tyrannosaur rex, we are going to paint them today and we have some t-rex activities. Now, tell me what you know about t-rex before Jose selects a book for me to read.”

Throughout this extended activity, the teacher listens carefully, shows attentive interest, and enthusiastically offers additional ideas. “What paint colors shall we use to paint our t-rex today? (Responding to a student, saying purple.) Purple would be good. One color or two? You can see our t-rexs are in pieces and we have to glue it to the paper first. How do you think we should build the t-rex? What body part shall we start with?” Any and all answers can be validated and/or acknowledged. Fantasy, imagination, and scientific inquiry are mutually supported.

The student is invited to physically move around to accelerate learning integration. “How do you think a t-rex moved? How does it get its food? Who do you suppose are its friends?” Perhaps there is a dramatization. Perhaps there is a collective song composed on the spot with a dance movement. Physical and creative activity can reinforce the learning experience. Opportunities are made available for students to be active. How do you think t-rexs dance?

Mental flexibility and creativity of the early childhood educator to enter new frontiers of learning supports student leadership and independence. Student motivation increases wherever play learning is occurring, particularly in their field of personal interest. This approach also has the magical effect of increasing confidence in personal speaking and communication. Many opportunities will arise for student talking and personal expression.

Teachers design instructional activities and lessons with these parameters in mind, appealing to student interest like the spider desires the fly, constructing a deliciously irresistible scenario for learning. The search on the part of the teacher to discover those meaningful interests is never ending. This is a wonderful technique to bring that quiet and shy child out of his or her shell. Conversations are guided by the teacher towards the learning goals of the day or week. Students are invited to share how they feel and what they know about each new topic. Topics may span weeks or even a month in exploration.

Many instructional ideas can be created on the spot and through devoted research. As educators we often cling too tightly to preconceived curricular directions and lesson plans. How can we allow ourselves to flow with the direction of the students a little more? Watching their play interests, seeing what excites them, provide choices, and then proceed to build a curriculum around that.

How can early childhood teachers micromanage less? How can we involve students more in the unfolding of the day? Watering plants, feeding the fish, nap helpers, choosing a book, setting tables, coat helpers, clean up inspectors, floor sweepers, playground inspectors, conflict police, etc. In how many ways are your children helping to manage and care for the classroom and outdoor spaces?

Including student points of view and interests, empowering them to be more actively responsible during the day, can add delight and laughter to learning experiences, crazy cooperation and collaboration, creating a learning canvas filled with the vibrant color of enthusiasm and maximizing learning. How will you do it?