ASCD is offering a free course on “The Whole Child,” which features five important needs of every child—that they are safe, healthy, engaged, supported and challenged. They ask participants to ponder the characteristics of a positive context for learning. From my experiences I came up with these:
A place where each can learn and develop at their own pace. One of the Latin-American teachers with whom I had worked sent me a distraught instant message: Her little boy was in the first grade and could not read. His teacher was bullying her and her child. She felt she was a bad mother. I reminded her that each child has their own best time to “flower,” (just like the little tiger, Leo, in Robert Krauss’ book) and that no one had the right to abuse her or her child. Most children just need confidence and a little self-understanding and they will learn what they need to learn. She herself could probably tell if her little boy had dyslexia or another problem and if so, could seek professional help.
An environment where it’s okay to make mistakes. Any creativity expert will agree that making mistakes is part of the creative process. However, the current culture often applauds “put-downs” and clever one-ups-man-ship (as can be seen in too many reality shows.) From the beginning each child must be supported even when they make mistakes and shown to use mistakes to learn and improve and find new strategies and ideas. In my Lab School of long-ago, I had two fourth-grade girls who will constantly finding fault and making fun of other kids. Coincidentally, they hated math! To help this problem, I challenged them to spend an entire day in the classroom, lunchroom, playground and so on, just counting “put-downs.” Then they were asked to plot them against time. We actually found out something important from their study: put-downs tend to become more and more frequent until lunchtime, then they drop off and start building again for the rest of the day. They were asked to share their findings and suggest how and when to cut down on put-downs.
A place where you feel you belong. I loved the Early Childhood Learning Center in Levelland ISD where I assisted with many family nights and projects. Principal Dr. Arlene Brooks, lead teacher Phyllis DiGenaro, and the other staff knew how to create a beautiful climate. When each child enrolled in the school, they were given a large posterboard heart to decorate as they wished to tell about their family. These hearts of families and everyone else at the school were used to decorate the halls. Their family nights were warm, inviting, bi-lingual and creative. Parents created posters and banners to express their ideas and commitments to helping their children think and learn. They even extended this nurturing environment into the community where kindergarten art was proudly displayed at a sponsoring restaurant.
The magazine, “Teaching Tolerance,” from the Southern Poverty Law Center offers many other suggestions for creating positive climates that bring out the best in children, teachers and parents.