Thursday, February 15, 2018

Kids Are People Too

Growing up, my favorite show to watch on TV was The Little Rascals.  I have a whole repertoire of quotes from those short movies, and to this day love watching them.  The Little Rascals are independent, resilient, resourceful, and really funny kids.  They made me feel like being a kid wasn't a handicap.  After all, kids don't have the freedoms, rights, and choices of adults.  Kids can feel powerless in a confusing world.  But the Little Rascals were not helpless.  In their world, kids could do and be and have just about anything.

Happily for me, my grandchildren are also fans of The Little Rascals. (Unhappily for my children, they're also quoting some of their favorite lines.) We watch episodes on youtube, and the kids laugh so hard they sometimes fall off the couch.  Recently, we watched a newer, color movie version which happened to be really good.  There were several cameos of famous people, such as Whoopi Goldberg as Buckwheat's mother.  In one scene, Spanky and some of the kids pretended to be adults so they could apply for a bank loan to rebuild their clubhouse.  The banker was played by Mel Brooks, and of course he saw through their disguise immediately.  As a busy banker, he was impatient and dismissive with them, and Spanky said, "Hey mister, you can't talk to people like that.".  And Brooks yelled back, "You're not people, you're a kid!".

Few of us would be rude enough to make that statement in real life, but the truth is that many of us convey that exact message to kids non-verbally.  And they get it.  For example, many adults seem to think it's okay to use swear words or hold adult conversations in the presence of small children because they assume that the kids don't understand.  Wrong.  Children are highly attuned to our tone, facial expressions, and body language, and even if they don't have a grasp of all the vocabulary we use, they understand what we are communicating.  Anyone who has learned a second language knows that sometimes you can get the gist of a conversation without grasping all the words.  Children have strong, innate communicative abilities.  Underestimating those abilities is disrespectful.  

Children entering toddler and early childhood programs are not empty buckets waiting to be filled up with knowledge.  Even our youngest students bring with them a world of experiences and understandings.   Ask any mother how quickly the first year of life goes by --zoom!  And in that time, our children are gathering tons of information about their bodies, about the people and things in their surroundings, and about communication.   Developmentally appropriate practice, which is the professionally accepted approach to early childhood education, means using the developmental levels of our students as a starting point for teaching.   Lesson plans are based on the children's interests and personal experiences.  So, let's say a holiday is coming up and we want to learn and celebrate in class.  The first step is to find out what the children already know about the holiday, what experiences they've had with it, and then develop activities to extend their knowledge.  All learning is about making connections between new concepts and prior knowledge.

It's important to be every bit as thoughtful in talking to children as we are when speaking to adults. We may never know the full impact of our words.  Once, at the beginning of a new school year, a four year old boy said to me, "My teacher last year said I was a tzaddik "(righteous person).  I answered him, "You're still a tzaddik".  To me, it was a nothing conversation.  Days later, his mother repeated it word for word.  She said that another adult might have paid little attention to him " That's nice"; but that my words touched him deeply.  Wow.

It's important to treat children as our conversational equals.  This will:  1) demonstrate that their thoughts and feelings have value; 2) build their self-confidence; and 3) strengthen their own communication skills.  Of course children deserve to be treated with respect.  They're people too!!


  1. You’re points are so insightful and thought provoking! I really enjoyed this post.