A colleague made a comment a while ago that when I teach kids (I teach everything from 2-year-olds through teens to adults) I treat them like adults. And although that isn’t exactly true, it’s been sitting in my mind for a while.
Over the years, when I’ve watched other people teach young children, I’ve often cringed a little inside. It’s not that what they’re teaching is bad because it’s not. Often they’ve been teachers that I respect very highly. But what makes me cringe is when I see teachers patronise kids.
Children are smart. Until someone (including themselves) tells them they’re not, kids are unbelievably bright, intelligent and present. To talk to kids as anything other than smart belittles them.
When I teach kids, be they teens or toddlers, I make a huge effort to be in their world, to see things as they see them, and to talk to them from there. It takes time and practice to be able to see the world from another’s (especially a younger) perspective. But when you can quickly and easily see another person’s reality it will make your teaching that much easier.
I remember a time when I was teaching pre-school gymnastics. A 3 year old came into the session with her teddy bear and refused to let it go or put it down. Obviously it would get in the way of her gymnastics but taking it away would only cause an upset. Instead, I let her keep it with her. After about 5 minutes she told another coach and me that her teddy bear had hurt himself. My co-coach looked at me dumbfounded as I picked up a nearby hula hoop, told the girl that it was a hospital and asked her to leave her bear in the hospital so that it could get better and heal. Without a moment’s thought, she put the bear down in the hula hoop and came back to doing gymnastics, happy as Larry.
The other coach couldn’t understand how I’d solved the situation so quickly. For me it was obvious. Instead of fighting for my point of view – that it was a stuffed animal, not real, wasn’t actually hurt, and was in the way of the girl doing gymnastics – I saw the world as she saw it: the teddy bear was real and alive (with a name I can’t remember), and was really and truly hurt. Obviously the bear needed to be treated; and where better to get treated than a hospital?
For young children, what is in their imagination is real: stuffed animals are real, monsters in the closet are real, and hospitals are real even when they’re just a hula hoop. If you tell a young child a blue mat is water and they should jump over it without landing in the water it really is water for them. They don’t just imagine it – they live it.
You have to get that your reality and their reality aren’t the same. You are literally living in two different worlds.
Being patronising or condescending stems from the notion that one belief is superior to the other. If your reality is superior – or right – and their’s inferior, wrong, misguided, stupid or immature, your best choice will be to patronise your students (at worst it’s force or bully), distancing yourself from them and their reality. And, as I said above, kids are smart; they know the difference.
Children, teenagers and adults all deal with different things and have different concerns, considerations and thought processes; they all have their own perspectives and their own realities. Being able to get into another persons reality, to see the world not just as they see it but how it really is over there, will allow you to overcome many tricky situations and obstacles.
It’s not that I treat kids like adults. I don’t. I treat adults as adults. I don’t (or at the very least I try not to) talk down to adults. And I treat kids as kids and teens as teens. I don’t talk down to them either. I get in their world and talk to them from there, on their level and in their reality, just like an adult.
Adam is the founder of Airborne Circus and tweets as @CircusBoy1. He can be contacted at adam(at)airbornecircus(dot)com.