Friday, February 5, 2010

Challenges when teaching children

I've started teaching 'art' to Junior and Senior Infants (ages 4-6) as part of an after school program in a local National School. It’s nice to be working weekly with a group of children again.
They are such bright things; some bizarrely awkward and self conscious other zooming-ly confident in their abilities and unshakeable beliefs about the world. The range of abilities in this age group is quiet mixed both in terms of social ability and fine motor skills. For some this is their first after school activity. Their behaviour is mixed with timidness, smiles, tiredness, hunger, hyper activity, super smarts, chatty, informative, authorities sharing. Some can draw actual objects quiet well and others are at scribbling with some shapes. It is their unassuming awareness that I love. It is to get to know each of these children through art and teaching them to value their own work I enjoy. I am privileged to be entrusted by the school and parents to work with them. I have two groups one on Wednesday and one on Thursday. However it is a challenging age group to teach.

Initially working with any group it is important to establish ground rules. I hate the need for rules but having tried in the past to work with children and not having ground rules established it was… disastrous! So I started the first session with chairs in a circle. I asked all the children what the rules should be “no hitting, biting or punching” said the boys “no scribbling” said one girl. There are issue with the first statement. The language used around children is important. In an art class where I am trying to teach them the idea of ‘do’ negative language has no place. Reframing rules in a positive expression is critical to empowering the group of children to behave. If you say to a child “no…” they don’t hear the no they hear the action bit “hitting, bitting…”. I find it helpful to focus on the behaviour I want to encourage “respect each other” not 'don't do...'
The second issue around no scribbling was to establish that although we were still in the school we were n't in class. We were in afterschool art therefore it was good to scribble. During the first session we ended up with a scribble station a little bit away from where the main activity of the class was being done.

At the end of the first session most of the children had visited that area and had a good old scribble. One parent told me it was the scribble her son showed as his best work! He also informed his Mum he had to 'practice his scribble for next week'.
Out rules now look something like this
  • have fun
  • just one voice
  • treat each other with respect
  • listen when teacher is talking
  • show respect for the room and the art materials
  • scribbling is good
We decided at the end of session one that when the group came in to session two the following week they could get some crayons and paper and scribble imediately. This worked really well as it got them straight into an activity and grounded some of the energetic boys.

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