Observation and Children's Actions

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Reflecting on the last article, “The Line between Discipline and Guidance,” I was remembering some principals of actions that guide children’s behavior. These are actions that I have witnessed over and over when working with school age children. Through sharing these observations I want to encourage other educators to take a closer look why children choose specific actions in the classroom and explore how this insight can help us in our practice and relationship in our learning community.

The following are three basic principals of children’s actions that I have witnessed often in the classroom. Children’s actions appear simple but in reality are very complex, because children experience many variables in their daily walk of life making decisions how they are going to respond to these experiences.

Principle 1: All action has a higher purpose, is my favorite principal because it is so true. We often observe children engaging in certain actions and wonder, “What are they doing?” We may see children’s actions as experimental, but children know exactly why they are doing a specific action because to them their action has a higher purpose. This is why an action we find unusual or undesirable may continue when educators offer children a different option. The children are not being defiant they are working on a goal. One simple way to understand this concept is by talking to the children. When we engage in conversation with children they will tell us in great detail their plan of action and then we will discover the motivation for what they are doing very quickly. In addition, conversation with children helps us gain clear understanding and invites suggestion for a replacement action, if necessary, which will help the learning community and the child, reach their higher purpose.

Principle 2: Children do certain actions because it is rewarding. This principal is very interesting because it can be a trap for educators when dealing with challenging actions. The tendency of educators is to give attention to the disruptive actions and to give less attention to the children who go about their day peacefully. This teaches the learning community that if you want attention you need to earn it, and it reinforces the challenging actions of the children who are learning to be part of the community. A common practice is to address challenging actions immediately, with big voices, and in the view of the other children. This brings attention to the child who often is not concerned by this interaction, but feels a sense of accomplishment in gaining attention. Instead we could choose to observe the behavior and talk with the child on an individual basis when the conversation will have more meaning for the child and the learning community.

Principle 3: To change one action it has to be replaced with another. This principal is the key to influencing challenging actions because this method is offering guidance over rules. Educators, in school age care especially, need to be less rule explainers and more involved talking with children. It is fun to come to a program, play games, create, and shoot hoops, but our main role is to guide social skills. Children know how to play it is their work at this stage of life. Children know how to create, run, skip, and paint. Where children need help is working socially with other children. They want to know, How do I talk to a friend I am angry with? Or ask someone to share Lego’s? Our main role as an educator is to observe and guide the children how to navigate the questions that come up when interacting with other people. Being a guide requires listening first, then suggesting options for the child to reach their goal. We need to keep in mind that our suggestions will help some of the time, and in other instances they will not. Our role is to keep communicating and help the child find a replacement action that satisfies their goal and helps build the learning community.

I would encourage all educators to keep practicing your listening and observation skills, skills that are fundamental in our practice and are a tool that you can use everyday to help your time with the children be calm and enjoyable. I have gained a better understanding of children by recognizing the principals mentioned above and I hope they enhance your learning journey with children.