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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

It's OK NOT to Share... Book Linky!

I'm linkin' up today with Deanna Jump to share a parenting book that I have pretty much fallen in love with.  No I'm not yet a parent, but the "renegade rules" in this book are extremely applicable to life in the classroom.
This book is controversial, although it's not quite as controversial as the title may imply.  The author shares ideas that center around the concept of "letting kids be kids."  She is definitely an advocate of child-centered thinking, and she is very in-tune with the developmental stages of young children.  I don't agree 100% with everything in this book, and not everything can work in the classroom the way it might in a home setting, but I want to share my favorite ideas that I will take away from it and use in my teaching.

1. Stop Forcing Kids to Share
So imagine the scene.  A young couple in love, playing footsie under the table, quite sure they have found "the one."  The sweet girl bats her eyelashes as she reaches for a french fry on her date's plate.  SKERRRRRRTTTT.  The boy barely stops himself from slapping her hand and immediately declaring the relationship doomed to fail.  My food is MY food!
Why yes, that girl was me.  Luckily, I learned how to keep my stray hands focused on my own food, and we are happily married.  And now that I don't grab for his food without permission, he usually sometimes offers me a bite out of the kindness of his heart.

It is not unreasonable to allow someone to eat all of their food without sharing it.  So why do we expect kids to share everything?  There are plenty of my possessions that I am happy to share with others, but there are also several that I want all for myself.  And when I do share, I certainly don't do so because it's demanded of me.  I share because someone asks nicely, and I share when I am ready (i.e. not using it myself).
I know I'm definitely guilty of this... Bobby comes to complain that Susie isn't sharing the teddy bear.  Rather than talking them through the situation or hearing Susie out, I simply command - "Susie, share with Bobby."  But this isn't how sharing works in the real world and as Shumaker points out, it just causes Susie to now associate negative feelings with sharing.

Instead of forcing children to share, we should teach them how to take turns.  "Susie, Bobby would love the teddy bear.  Could you please make sure to give it to him once you are all through using it?"  Now Susie can continue her play with the bear and then decide when she's ready to share it.  In the meantime, Bobby can practice patience, or find something else to play with.

2. Don't Force Friendships
Shumaker titles this Renegade Rule: We're Not All Friends Here.  Throw 20+ adults into a room, and certain sub-groups are going to naturally form.  You and I are not BFFs with everyone we meet, and that's okay.  Children shouldn't be forced to play with other children just because they are all young.  Let students choose their friends, while maintaining respect for all.  

Another rule that goes hand-in-hand with this idea: You Can't Play = A OK.  We as teachers should not force kids to play with one another.  This is a common theme at recess.  Sarah complains that Mia won't play with her.  Instead of commanding that Mia play with Sarah, we can instead help Sarah find another playmate who will genuinely want to play with her.  The book gives detail scenarios for how to help students handle this rejection and say no to playing appropriately while staying respectful.

Bottom-line: I don't want anyone telling me who I must spend time with during my own free-time, so why should we force children into friendships that they aren't genuinely interested in!?  We can empower and guide kids to make their own decisions about friendships while showing kindness for everyone.

3. Let's Let Kids Play!
It's clear that this rule is very near and dear to Shumaker's heart - it's the very 1st Rule in the book: Don't Steal Play!
This one is a bit hard for me to embrace entirely, as she makes it clear that she believes modern-day Kindergarten is forcing children to learn in a formal academic setting before they are developmentally ready.  I do understand where she is coming from, although I know from my 8 years in the K classroom, that many children are ready and raring to go.

There are still many valuable lessons to be learned from this rule in regards to the early childhood classroom.  We must save time for play.  And not structured play - FREE play.  I feel so grateful to teach in a district that still values and supports "Centers" in Kindergarten.  They provide us with puppets, blocks, painting easels, toy furniture and play food, the whole nine yards.  Equally important to this precious Centers time - letting the kids freely choose where they play.  I do not assign students to certain Centers on certain days.  Children need to have the choice to play as they wish.

We also have to allow kids to move in the classroom and take frequent breaks.  Most 5 and 6 year-olds can physically not sit still for more than a few minutes at a time.  A child wants to stand or lay on his belly while doing his work?  Why not!?  A child rather walk around at the back of the room while you read a story?  What's the harm!?  We need to be flexible and remember that today's educational system requires young students to conform to a set of classroom norms that they developmentally are just not ready for.

If you have some free time this summer, I highly recommend reading this book.  Despite some of her unconventional or "old-school" advice, she maintains the rule that what children do is okay as long as it doesn't hurt people or property.  Respect is a common theme - not only in the child's actions and words but in how we treat children as well.  I'd LOVE to hear your feedback.  Leave a comment and let me know what you think about the ideas I've shared and how I plan to use them in my own teaching!

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