Preschool: a primer for perseverance, patience, and problem solving

best toy everI run a home daycare called the Big Cardboard Box. I began my business in 2006 after a maternity leave and after working as an educator in more formal settings for 13 years. My experiences include classroom teacher (mostly grade 8), vice principal, interim co-principal, and curriculum writer. Eventually I’ll get back into the classroom, but for now I can add professional nose-wiper and Raffi crooner to my list of credentials.

I’ve mastered the art of cooking deluxe cheesy noodles (which is really just all about texture), and I can hogtie I mean change 2 diapers in under a minute, 3 if all are of the number one variety. I’ve learned how to create learning experiences that will give ‘my kids’ a solid foundation in literacy and numeracy before they go to kindergarten. We play with dominoes, create patterns with pretty rocks from Dollarama, chant nursery rhymes and read lots of books. We spend a bit of time every morning doing structured learning activities like circle time, calendar, morning message, and printing practice.

But really we spend most of our day playing – simply doing ordinary kid stuff like building forts out of blankets and furniture, propelling ourselves around in Flintstone cars, climbing to the top of Snow Mountain, hosting spontaneous dance parties, and setting up homes in big cardboard boxes. We also learn some handy skills along the way. Besides the really exciting milestones (over a dozen kids have learned how to ride a two-wheeler in the cul-de-sac), we figure out how to do the ordinary things like put on boots and snowsuits, use a fork and knife (thank you IKEA) climb stairs, and open a gate (doh!). We try something and if it doesn’t work we try something different. We stick with it and we get results.

I say ‘we’ because I’m very engaged in the playing and learning, or at least in the planning and reflecting on the activities. And I’ve learned a few things myself. I’ve discovered that you should never give a kid a timeout near an old spring doorstopper. I’ve learned that grilled cheese is really just a utensil to scoop and shovel large blobs of ketchup into kids’ mouths. And I’ve realized that if left to their own fumbling devices, preschoolers will eventually figure out how to get their snowpants off so they can drink their hot chocolate before all the marshmallows melt.

Perhaps this is the most significant lesson I’ve learned as a daycare provider. While it’s agonizing to listen to noises of frustration, (tip: kids are less persuasive if you leave the room and they think you can’t hear them), sometimes the best thing I can provide them with is nothing. “I’ll be there in a minute,” is my mantra. If I helped them lickety split, I’d be robbing them of their opportunity to practice some creative problem solving. If you leave the kids alone with the candy wrapper (yes sometimes I feed them junk) trust me they will eventually try enough different tricks with their little fingers to rip it open. If they say they’re finished playing with a basket of toys and are ready for something new, (“I’m bored!”) I encourage them to stick with it and play for a few more minutes, I’m impressed with how many new ways they can play with an old toy. Kids who are encouraged to persevere will amaze me with their resourcefulness.

So what will these lessons mean for me when I get back into the formal classroom? In teaching the children to be patient and persevere, I’ve developed a little bit more stick-with-it power myself. In my experience before I left the classroom in 2004, I tended to over-instruct. It made me uncomfortable when students took too long to find the answer, and I didn’t allow them enough time to be resourceful and creative problem solvers. But now I’m ready to embrace newer trends and movements in education. I no longer view myself as the sage who delivers knowledge and strategy; I’m ready to become a facilitator of learning. I’ve learned to sit back and allow students to muddle through a task, make mistakes and start over. If the 4-year-old in my care can do it, the 14-year-old can do it too, right? I won’t feel compelled to give them the strategy and the solution after 10 seconds of silence. After 13 years of formal teaching and training, it’s actually my 7 years as a daycare provider that taught me how to be a patient educator. I’m ready to witness my students’ creativity and resourcefulness, their perseverance and patient problem solving! I’m primed and I’m pumped!

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