I was the sole adult among eight preschoolers today, and lived to tell the tale!
It is kind of interesting to me, because one of the mothers of the kids I watched today, I had not seen in quite some time. The last time I remember talking to her was shortly after my second child was born. I was in tears, stressed over the reality of taking care of two children. Yet today, I volunteered to watch eight! My, how things change. Am I more confident in my abilities, or have I just lost any semblance of sanity?
I am currently in college, working to become a teacher. Having finished up my Associate’s degree, I feel like I am finally getting to the meat of my education- what it means to be a teacher, how to ensure kids are learning, and how to manage a classroom. I’ve been so inspired by my courses; I couldn’t wait to put into practice what I have been learning.
My boys are ages two and almost four. I decided to put together a summer messy play/art camp for them and some of their friends. I devised a series of lessons based around different components of art (texture, color, movement, etc), which incorporated various projects and play opportunities. Best case scenario, I would be a natural teacher and the kids would be enriched by the experience. Worst case scenario, their moms would get two kid-free hours knowing I would at least keep them all alive(fingers crossed).
I spent weeks writing my lesson plans and organizing my supplies, but things really kicked into gear over the last two or three days. My theory was the more organized I was, the more time I could devote to interacting with the kids. I believe my preparations paid off. While the camp was more messy than I anticipated, I was able to clean up quickly. We did three projects- a moon and stars painting using cottonballs, homemade puffy paint, beads, and sand; a footprint in the sand using coffee ground play-doh and sea shells, and a sensory play with water beads.
I thought the paint project would be the messiest, but because I had given each child an individual tray of supplies, the mess cleaned up easily- just dump the tray at the end of the session. I also doled out the supplies in steps- first letting them paint, then removing their paint pallets before giving them beads, sand, and glue to work with.
The water beads proved to be the most challenging. I thought I had a deep enough container to house them, and that I would be able to keep the kids from getting them everywhere. Looking back, I just shake my head because OF COURSE there was NO WAY those beads were staying in that small tub. As soon as the kids figured out the beads would bounce, it was all over. Beads as far as the eye could see.
Fortunately, I teach the same lesson twice a week, which gives me time to learn from my mistakes. I will still use the water beads, because they are just too much fun. I would rather clean up the mess than to not let the kids explore them. But I am going to try placing them in an empty sandbox. I am hoping with more area to let the beads roam, there will be less on the floor. The kids were great with the clean up though. They made a game of picking the beads up and putting them in empty water bottles.
One mess I didn’t anticipate came in the form of packing peanuts. Today’s lesson was about texture, so I placed different items inside of boxes and had the kids hold the items and try to guess what they were by touching them. I started out with dominoes and small stones. Then I made the mistake of giving them the packing peanuts. One of the kids determined you could break them into smaller pieces. Another found the box and learned it was fun to throw them in the air. Before I knew what hit me, there was a snow storm in the living room. I think I might find another item to put in the box for Thursday’s class.
I was very worried about maintaining control of a group of kids, but I learned that wasn’t an issue for the most part. I had two students who were two years old, and I didn’t know if they would be crying for their mothers as soon as they were out of sight. I learned that choosing a lesson on texture was a great distraction. All I had to say was “Come look at this (painting, birdhouse, play-doh, etc). Do you want to touch it?” and I would have a crowd of kids around me.
The kids seemed to respect my authority as a teacher. If I said sit, they sat. If I said clean up, they cleaned. I offered lots of praise for those children doing what I needed them to do. My issue was that my own kids do not necessarily view me as a teacher. With them, the automatic respect for authority was not there. Last week, I saw an interview with Susan Sarandon and she said something like “when you raise kids to question authority, the first person they question is you.” Has a statement ever been truer? I did find that once my kids saw the other children doing what I needed them to, they generally followed suit.
I did not know how quickly I would run through my material, and I seemed to time my lesson pretty accurately. My class was two hours, and I finished with ten minutes to spare. This is where things took an interesting turn. I have pillows and blankets stashed all over my house. The kids grabbed them and started pretending to have a sleep over in the living room. Somehow this game evolved into being really quiet for about ten seconds, then laughing at yelling volume for about a minute. The game got a little loud and rambunctious, and I wondered what the moms would think when they showed up to a seemingly completely out of control room.
The first mom showed up, and the kids began going crazy. A new game of running around and pretending to kill scorpions came about. If you’ve ever witnessed eight toddlers chasing each other through the house, you know how chaotic this scene was. A herd of elephants would be more quiet and dainty. I hoped the moms didn’t get in their cars wondering “what did I sign my kid up for?”
My favorite part of the day was observing the kids as they explored the different textures. I was surprised by the attention span of the two year olds. I thought they would quickly make a mess and then move on. But their curiosity astounded me. I showed the children an example of what we were making, and I modeled the steps. But I feel it is important to let them explore and create in their own way. I do not like to pressure them to do it “right.” So when two of the girls plunged their hands in the paint and became fascinated with squishing the paint, I let them squish. I loved hearing them squeal with delight as the paint oozed between their fingers.
The main question I had for myself today was, am I on the right path? It is one thing to think you want to be a teacher. It is another to be able to handle all the job entails. I still have a lot to learn. Obviously I had some missteps today. But I came away feeling pleased with how I spent my time, and anxious to improve. That, to me, says I am in the right space.