Wielding Our Power Carefully

paper towel roll instrument

A few years ago, my wife took several recycle/repurpose items to a preschool classroom to use as “environmental instruments” with the other rhythm instruments. She took some paper towel tubes, plastic plates, and some paper wads; children took pairs of each item to tap together and create some different rhythm sounds.

Another teacher remarked that she had brought trash for the kids to use…and her tone was an unfavorable one. Kids immediately began calling the items “trash,” especially the paper wads. They used them reluctantly and quickly moved to change to something else when the time came. Weeks later, they still referred to the items as trash and wanted to quickly trade whenever they can. While one child was tapping the paper wads together, another child said, “He’s got the trash!” The first kid immediately dropped them and wouldn’t play until he moved to the next instrument.

I think that we adults sometimes forget the power we have. Our influence can go beyond learning content. Our reactions, comments, facial expressions, and words can impact how kids feel about what they are doing and even how they feel about themselves. How I wish that teacher had enthusiastically said, “Look at what we can use as instruments. We can use things that normally would be thrown away to make rhythms and music.” I think then the kids would be excited to use “trash” as instruments.

Now my wife and I work together with a group of 4-year-olds in a music/choir class. This group is enthusiastic about just about everything. One thing that my wife does each week involves our lining up to leave the room and move to the next thing. As you know, most kids want to be the leader of a line. But Cindy makes every place in the line seem special. She lines them up in different ways – calling names or describing clothing or using initial letters of names. But it’s always like this: “Who will be #3 in line? It is Liam! You are number 3!” Each position in line is exciting. I haven’t heard a child yet who complains about who is leader or who whines to be first in line. Every place is great!

Our attitudes and opinions are contagious. Recently I’ve seen the opinions of adults leak into the minds and words of young children.Our thoughts about a child (or an adult) can become everyone’s opinion. If we use an exasperated voice in talking to this child…or act in ways that seem that the child is difficult…or do anything that singles out any child – that attitude could be transferred to other children. Or if we think that something is boring or tiresome, kids will begin to think that it is boring.

We must wield our power carefully.This made me think of the Spiderman quote: “With great power comes great responsibility.” If an idea seems unusual to me, I should help explore it (not dismiss/reject it immediately). I shouldn’t try to impose my interests and tastes on the kids. I need to help the kids explore a variety of ideas and develop their own unique interests and tastes. I need to carefully weigh what I say or how I express my own ideas.

And I should be excited about learning and discovering. Because they already are and I shouldn’t dampen that.

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