More and more these days, I’m reminded about how much the world has changed since I started teaching 18 years ago. I don’t always feel old, but then things happen, and I remember that I’ve been in teaching for a long time. I’m currently taking the Reading Part 2 Additional Qualification Course through our Board, and just the other week, I found out that a high school teacher in the course taught some of my kindergarten students a few years ago. They were in Grade 10 at the time. Now they’re about to graduate. Old. And with age and different experiences, I also realize that the realities of today are different for children than they were years ago. Even in Kindergarten.
A couple of weeks ago, I shared this Instagram post of a child singing, Kiki Do You Love Me as he was playing with the LEGO.
Nursery rhymes and kids’ songs used to be what children sang as they played. Now many students don’t know the words to these children’s songs, but they can all sing Shake It Off. While my teaching partner, Paula, and I may Google the “clean versions” of these songs to play during our Dance Tidies, I know that many students have probably heard all versions. I’m not sure how comfortable I am with that, but I know that it’s a reality.
I still remember a number of years ago, I was teaching at a different school. It was the last day before the Winter Break. I returned to the classroom after my prep, and a little boy came up to talk to me. He said that another child in the class said, “Sh*t.” Hmmm … I called this other child over to find out more. Before I could share what the first student told me, he looked at me and insisted, “I did not say, ‘f***!'” I was not expecting that response, especially from a four-year old. That’s when I replied with, “The other child did not say that you said this, he said that you said, ‘sh*t.’ Is this what happened?” The little boy calmed for a minute and said, “Okay, I did say, ‘sh*t,’ but I definitely did not say, ‘f***.'” Now came my wonder about how to reply to this child. I decided to say this: “I can understand that you might be upset or angry, but at school, we need to choose different words. What could you say instead?” We brainstormed some possibilities, and I left it at that. I figured that I might need to remind this child about word choice a few more times over the course of the year, and I did, but getting angry at him wasn’t going to solve the problem. Punishing him wasn’t going to solve the problem. I needed to try to teach him instead.
Young kids like to play with words. It’s why many students break out into song throughout the day. They find word play amusing. This is why numerous young children create their own silly words, as a group of students did around our eating table yesterday.
This word play is great for developing Phonological Awareness skills, and it’s why Paula and I encourage it. Sometimes swear words and bathroom words come out of this word play. Most educators will avoid the “uck” and “it” families for this very reason. For at least the past five years, I’ve dealt with problems including,
- Children kissing.
- Children streaking … not intentionally, but it happening anyways.
- Children swearing.
- Children comparing and discussing body parts.
- Children discussing bodily functions.
I’ve probably uttered phrases that nobody in the Faculty of Education ever told me that I would say, including,
- “We do not kiss our friends.”
- “At __________ School, we keep our clothes on.”
- “Where are your pants?”
- “Keep your body to yourself.”
As adults reading this post, any one of these experiences can concern us greatly, but we need to remember the developmental levels of our students. These kindergarten children are being exposed to many new experiences. They hear and see everything. And they are making sense of these observations, and trying to figure out what works for them. It’s why we need to remind them about what’s appropriate and why this matters. We also need to teach children though to advocate for themselves.
- “If you don’t like what somebody says, ask them to stop.”
- “If you still don’t like it, choose to walk away.”
- “And if something or someone makes you uncomfortable, tell an adult. Ask for help.”
These safety expectations are part of our Kindergarten Program Document, and they are a great way to build self-advocacy. With young children though, actions often speak louder than words. If a friend walks away because he/she does not like what another child is saying, this other child will usually stop. Talking to a young child incessantly about bodily functions, profanity, and privacy will rarely yield results, as students tune adults out in this case. They can’t take in that much oral information. But they often feel it when those that they care about leave them, and then they might start to reconsider their actions.
The longer that I’m in teaching, the more that I’m reminded that it’s important to view situations through a child’s perspective. It might help us see things differently. I’m not suggesting that we ignore problems, but I’m reminded again and again, about what is “normal.” And once again, I realize that we definitely teach children way more than just reading, writing, and arithmetic. As educators and/or parents, how do you respond to these same situations? What’s the value in doing so? Sometimes you never know what children will say or do, but I’ve learned to roll with the many surprises.