Do You Think They Knew That?

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“The process of growing up is learning to be with others.” – Ellen Galinsky

When this year started, we were a classroom of 17 individuals, with solely individual needs, desires, and interests. We were not a community, nor did the children seem to seek a community – they were rather content in their egotistical world. We have made strides this year, particularly in terms of perspective taking – a cornerstone of any working community. This was accomplished in a number of way, many of which I didn’t intend to build perspective taking skills, but upon reflection I realize that they naturally aided in it’s development. One of which, is sportscasting.

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An observational study of forty families in England concluded that, “In families where the mothers discussed caring for the baby as a matter of joint responsibility and talked about the baby as a person from the early days, the siblings were particularly friendly over the next year.” 

Ellen Galinsky summarizes, “Mothers…who helped the older child understand the baby by saying things like, “The baby is crying. Why do you think he’s crying? Do you think he’s hungry or needs his diaper changed? Let’s try to feed him and see if he stops crying” had children who were more likely to fight less and get along better as they grew up.

While sportscasting is spoken often for infants and toddlers as a way to aide them in working through emotions and to ensure they feel heard, as well as preventing adults from over stepping and “taking over” in a moment of conflict – I hear less about how it helps slightly older children.

What the observational study tells me, is that sportscasting aides in the development of perspective taking skills. Adults model how to think about what someone else is doing and feeling, in a matter of fact way. I believe continued sportscasting, albeit a more sophisticated form of it, as children exit toddlerhood has added benefit.

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“Perspective taking involves the intellectual skill of discerning how someone else things and feels; it requires assembling our accumulated knowledge of that person, analyzing the situation at hand, remembering similar situations, re-calling what others have told us about such situations, putting aside our own thoughts and feelings, and trying to feel and think as another person must feel and think.”

Yesterday A had picked up a toy that M had placed on a table before walking away. M returned, distraught, because she was not done using said toy. Something we often say during conflicts such as these is, “Do you think they knew you were not yet done with the toy?”

A simple question, that requires much skills to answer. The ability to think about someone else’s perspective first requires the development of inhibitory control, cognitive flexibility and reflection. When we ask a child to think from someone’s perspective, we are setting our expectations high.

This time, after some basic sportscasting of what I saw occur, I asked the same question but first with some leading discussion first.

“A had been waiting to use the wheels. How do you think A felt when he saw you were done with them?”

“He probably felt maybe happy.”

“I agree! Perhaps even excited that he no longer had to wait. Have you ever had to wait for a toy for a very long time before getting it?”

“Yes! I waited and waited and waited and waited and waited for the square Magna Tiles earlier but L was using all of them. Then he gave me some.”

“How did that make you feel?”

“I felt maybe happy. I felt good.”

“So you know how A was feeling! (M smiles and nods her head, yes.) So imagine that if after you were given that Magna Tile, someone took it from you and said they weren’t actually done using it. How would you feel then?”

“I would feel so sad, and a little bit mad.” (M sits and curls into herself, appearing upset)

“Do you think that’s maybe how A is feeling right now?”

“Yeah maybe A is feeling sad.” (A nods his head and sticks a finger in the air to speak.)

“That is how I am feeling, yes.”

“A, did you know that M was still using the wheels?”

“No, actually I didn’t. She put it down on the table and she walked away.”

“How do you think M felt when she came back  thinking she could go back to using the wheels, only to see someone else using them?”

“I think maybe she felt a little bit sad.”

“I agree. I imagine she might have also felt disappointed. I am thinking about that time you had made a plan to build a house, and other people were trying to help you but didn’t know you already had a plan on exactly what you wanted it to look like. Do you remember that?”

“Oh yes, I remember.”

“I wonder if that is how M is feeling right now. She had a plan, but didn’t share it with other people. And now she can’t follow through with her plans because you have the wheels.”

“Oh, that’s true, yes.”

“So now that we know how each other is feeling and thinking, what can we do to solve this problem?”

Over the course of our conversation, both M and A went from being frazzled, in tears, and yelling at each other, to calm, relaxed, and sitting together passing the wheels back and forth between them. They came up with a plan that M could finish using the wheels for X amount of minutes before giving it to A. They ended up playing together.

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“It (perspective taking) requires inhibitory control – we must inhibit our own thoughts and feelings to take on the perspectives of others. It also requires cognitive flexibility – that is, the ability to view a situation in different ways. Finally, it requires reflection, as we ponder someone else’s thinking as well as out own.”

Much of our year has unintentionally been building upon the above skills: our beauty curriculum where children have explored various ideas of what is beautiful, self-portraits which have morphed into portrait making of each other, learning to care for fragile plants when all we want to do is pick and prod at them, talking about the under-representation of marginalized groups in children’s books, and all three of our formal project groups – natural disasters, kindness, and life cycles – all touched upon perspective taking.

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“In learning, you want to remain open to anything that may turn out to be the truth.” – Alison Gopnik

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