How Do We Help All Children Realize Just What They Can Do?

In fifteen years of teaching, I don’t think that I ever had a moment like I did today. And this moment surprised me, as when I watched this child climb up the fallen tree, I did not expect to record something that would later lead to this post. But it did.

It all started when I saw two students at the bottom of the fallen tree, and I heard one child say to the other one, “I’m going to climb up the tree.” Usually children slide down this tree, as the slope of the trunk and the curve at the top, make it a challenge to climb up. When I saw these two JK students about to embark on such a challenge, I decided to move a little closer to see what would happen. One child had a lot to say about her climb, and she spoke to me as she continued to make her way up the log.

It was only in listening back to this video tonight that I realized that she really did answer my question the first time on “the most challenging part.” She just didn’t answer it in the way that I expected it, so I asked her again. That led to her final comment about “swimming lessons,” and that’s when I decided to stop recording. I thought that she would slide down before climbing to the other side of the fallen log, as it is incredibly hard to get around the bend, but she persevered. When she made it to the other side, she got so excited that I had to record again. That’s when this four-year-old said something that caused me to call over my teaching partner, Paula, and listen to this video recording out in the forest. 

I love that the other child mentioned in this video feels confident enough in his skills to speak about his strength, but I also love, how her own accomplishments — like the climbing of this fallen tree today — make her believe in herself and articulate just what she can do. I almost wish now that I didn’t make any comment at the end of this video, or that if I did make a comment it was a more profound one than, “You’re right.” I was just so moved by her message that I felt the need to say something and I didn’t know quite what to say. 

Then this evening, a parent emailed me and asked me if I could send her the link to a video that I shared just after International Women’s Day about “raising brave girls.” This TED Talk is one that the other Kindergarten teacher at our school, Janet, shared with us. I couldn’t help but make the connection to today’s climbing experience: our forest time is what’s encouraging this adventure in both boys and girls. 

It’s helping children realize what they’re capable of, and encouraging them to take risks in all areas of their learning. When the year started, Paula told me that the forest would change all of us, and once again, today, I’m reminded of just how right she is. 

I know that we’re incredibly lucky at our school to have this forest space, as I came from a school last year with only blacktop. I know that the environment is different, but I can’t help but reflect and wonder, could we have used our space differently? What adventure play might be possible and what might this mean for children? I’d love to know more about how you support this risky play at home and at school. May we all have experiences where students realize their strength and feel as proud as this child did today!


2 thoughts on “How Do We Help All Children Realize Just What They Can Do?

  1. We need to quit over analyzing this and put the camera down and just play. Play with your kids. This reminds me of a Fraser scene. Over thinking it.

    • Thanks Frank for sharing your thinking! I do respectfully disagree with your analysis, but not because I do not believe in playing with kids. I spend my whole day playing with students, observing students, supporting students, and talking with students. I also record a lot of conversations because it’s when I listen back to them that I have these aha moments. It’s also when my teaching partner, Paula, and I listen back to them and talk about them together that we note growth and help determine some next steps. As much as we might get from playing and listening to students in the moment, I realize every day (thanks to these recordings) how much I miss. Usually I have multiple students talking to me at the same time, and my attention is spread over many different places. I think that this is the reality of teaching in a Full-Day Kindergarten Program with 32 four- and five-year-olds, all of whom want to share and capture their discoveries and new learning. I’m also really glad that I captured these two videos, as they both show this child’s tremendous growth since September. Not only does she — and others — take more risks now, but can articulate what she can do and how she knows her strengths. This is a huge, and important, part of the assessment component in the Growing Success Addendum For Kindergarten. I think these videos also allow this child’s parents to see what she’s doing at school and how she feels about her accomplishments. Even before the day was over yesterday, I noticed that her mom acknowledged these videos that I tweeted out. It’s these kinds of recordings that give parents a glimpse into the classroom throughout the day, and from the feedback I’ve received from parents, they appreciate these many glimpses. Maybe our interpretation of these videos comes down to the relationship that we have with kids, and maybe it’s hard to have the same feeling that my teaching partner and I had after watching these videos if you don’t know the child and the significance of the statement she made. Maybe others, like you, are sitting there and thinking that I’m over-analyzing this. I’d love to know. I appreciate push-back on my posts, and I thank you for making me think more about this and why I record and reflect on videos as I did here.


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