When cleaning up the classroom a few children decided they didn’t want to clean. I smiled, said okay, and moved on to helping the children who were cleaning. P noticed and said, “If we don’t clean we can play outside?” I know this is a consequence other teachers have used in the past. I replied, “Of course. I can’t make you do anything with your body – including cleaning. We’re cleaning the room so we can dance before we go outside, but if you don’t want to help you don’t have to. You should probably sit on the bench while we clean that way you won’t be in the way of those who are cleaning.”
There ended up being about 5 children cleaning, and 9 kids who chose to not clean. After about ten minutes the room was largely done except for a basket of animals strewn across the room and some block piles, so I called the class to the carpet to get ready to go outside. “We can go outside now, we just won’t be able to have a dance party because there isn’t enough room to dance without stepping on and tripping over toys.”
John jumped up and said, “But what if we all clean up the rest of the room? Then we can dance!”
Every child got up and the rest of the room was clear within 15 seconds. We had our dance party then headed to the cubbies to go outside
F didn’t want to put his shoes or jacket on. I told him that was fine, that I understood and explained to the rest of the classroom that our only playground choice would be the front yard since F didn’t want to wear shoes and asked if they thought that was okay. They were. So out we went.
In the past, both of these situations would have stressed me out. Largely because I would feel out of control. I would think, “The room has to be clean and I have to make them clean, how can I make them clean?” And then came the sticker charts, the stop light system (yes…I am ashamed to say I once used a stop light system.), and treasure box. Once I realized the damage these methods have, I switched my approach but still aimed for control. I would limit the number of children in each center, I made rules about cleaning up after each activity, I would assign children clean up jobs.
“A child whose life is full of the threat of fear and punishment is locked into babyhood. There is no way for him to grow up, to learn to take responsibility for his life and acts. Most important of all, we should not assume that having to yield to the threat of our superior force is good for the child’s character. It is never good for anyone’s character.” – John Holt
Now, I don’t feel the need for control. This room isn’t mine, it is theirs. If they don’t want to clean it, that will affect them – not me. It will affect how they can play, where they can nap, what materials they can play with. It won’t affect me. So why do we often make clean up about us? Or what they wear outside, about us? Or anything – about us?
Children do not need to be made to be better, told what to do or shown how. If they are given access to enough of the world, they will see clearly enough what things are truly important to themselves…and they will make for themselves a better path into that world than anyone else could make for them. – John Holt
Would getting on their level, talking in a calm voice, and explaining why they must conform to my rules make it any less controlling on my part?
To me, control is control, no matter how nicely you control.