How can we make statements to children about safety that are both accurate and firm/clear?
That was the question I brought to my ILC (Intentional Learning Community), a group of teachers that meet every four weeks to discuss a variety of topics together. Our pedagogista brought this system to our school and has been helping us build these pockets of community within our wider school community and it has been really incredible and helpful already. This week, I asked to present the question above that I had been pondering.
A few weeks ago, A was standing near a bear block that was tilted up like a ramp. He said, “I can’t go on that bear block, that’s dangerous.” Curious what he thought made it dangerous, I decided to start by asking what dangerous means to him.
“Dangerous is walking on the sidewalk by yourself.”
Ouch. This statement had a big effect on me. I started to think about the number of times this year I have said we hold hands when we walk to stay safe, or that it isn’t safe to walk by yourself. Both of these are an exaggeration of the truth. I started to think about other times I exaggerate the truth in regards to safety. While I think overall I am someone who thinks about risk versus danger/hazard quite often, and I don’t restrict children from taking risks very often – I still do make hyperbolic statements about safety in certain moments.
I made a list of some of these moments and brought it to my ILC group to discuss.
Some of the statements included:
It isn’t safe to walk around with scissors.
You have to sit when you chew your food or you can choke.
We hold hands when we walk to be safe.
It isn’t safe to throw hard things.
It isn’t safe to open the door without a teacher/adult.
It hurts my ears when you make that sound.
Part of our ILC groups is confidentiality. Because of this, I am not going to get into the nitty-gritty details of what we discussed. I am though going to say what I came away with from this discussion, and the ways I have started to implement change in my classroom.
- Often when we have a rule we have to enforce because of state regulations, we rely on a hyperbolic statement because it is quick, easy, and direct. I know they will be fine to stand or walk around while chewing food, but state regulations say they have to sit.
- When I taught older children, I would explain this to them. They even knew the name of our licensor and we would reference that this was, “M’s rule”.
- My expectations of toddlers are inaccurate. Going back to toddlers from preschoolers, I was exaggerating the difference in what they can and cannot understand. I have been enforcing that they hold hands when they walk, even though many of them are displaying an ability to walk safely on their own.
- When I used to teach preschool, we didn’t hold hands when we walked from place to place, unless a child displayed difficulty resisting the impulse to run away from the group. In fact, we often would run as a whole class from our classroom to the playground!
- These phrases become “go-to’s” and I forget that I can also pause a child and ask them what their plan is, so we can have a wider discussion on how to be safe doing something – such as carrying scissors around the classroom or throwing a hard object.
- My expectations play a part here as well. I did this easily with preschoolers, and less so with toddlers.
Since this meeting, I have decided to make a conscientious effort to slow down, catch myself starting to make these phrases, and think out the scenario with the children instead.
Yesterday, I only had a group of four children to bring to a playground up a brick path. I asked if we could try walking without holding hands. They cheered, and said, “Oh yes, we can try that.” I gave some perimeters by stating that to be able to see them at all times it’s important we stay together as a group. I said I would walk in front and they would stay right behind me. I walked backwards so I could see them as they walked. They giggled as they went, saying, “We walk safely. We walk together.” When someone would start to lag I would say, “Oh, let’s wait for ____ to catch up so we can make sure we are all staying together.
When we went back inside, the group explained to the other children how to walk without holding hands. T told everyone, “Cynthia walks in front and we walk behind her. We stay together!”
This morning when N threw a hard instrument and it hit me, I said, “N can we talk about how you can throw this safely because it hurt when you threw it at me?” N replied, “Oh, sure.” We decided it was okay to throw at the floor but not through the air. She threw it to the ground and laughed, “I did it safe.”
I am lucky to work in a school that values group discussions, and acknowledges that we all have something to learn from each other. I have gained so much from having that discussion, and I came away feeling challenged in how I think about toddlers and my expectations of their abilities. Next, I hope to discuss this with my co-teachers, and perhaps write a piece of documentation for our families to read. I wonder how often this comes up for families, and what alternative perspective they would be able to offer us from a parent point of view. I will continue to write down hyperbolic statements I hear myself say, so I can pick them apart later on, and continue to keep thinking deeply about safety statements and expectations I hold on to.
To learn is to optimize the quality of one’s networks. Learning is social. Most learning is collaborative. Other people are providing the context and the need, even if they’re not in the room. – From the New Social Learning: A Guide to Transforming Organizations through Social Media