“Most of what I really need
To know about how to live
And what to do and how to be
I learned in kindergarten.
Wisdom was not at the top
Of the graduate school mountain,
But there in the sandpile at Sunday school.“
“Ano? Lalaban ka?!” (Are you ready to fight?!”)
I was surprised to hear one of my tiniest students challenge and taunt one of the oldest boys in my class. My tiny Owen*, with his fists tightly clenched and his narrowed eyes, looked like he was ready to punch the lights out of *Danny.
I sighed, shook my head and stopped the nth fight I’ve witnessed since the school year started. In my head, I wondered: Why are these kids so aggressive and angry?
After two months, my personal (I say personal because they’re all based on my observations only) conclusions are:
1. My students haven’t played enough.
2. My students have poor language (oral and written) skills.
3. My students need to feel that they belong.
Since we got our recess tray routine down, I would usually have about ten minutes of free time to go around, talk to the kids or simply observe them. I was watching them play a game similar to Marco Polo when I realized that the game would stop every few seconds because they would argue about whose turn it was or what rules they would follow.
After recess, I did a quick survey and asked how many of them went to preschool. Less than half of my students raised their hands – most of them went straight to first grade. This would explain a lot about their behavior because first grade doesn’t usually allow the same kind of play time / circle time that children have in preschool.
Longitudinal studies have shown that attending preschool can be a factor for success in the future. There are numerous skills that one can learn from early childhood play – following rules, taking turns, sharing and being fair.
OH SAY CAN YOU SAY?
I often succumb to curiosity and this is why I find myself eavesdropping a lot (haha!). Apart from talking about TV shows, their past teachers and classmates, I noticed that my students use a lot of fillers in their daily conversations. They often say, “aaaahh…yung ano, yung ano…”
This is often the case when I ask them to retell anything – from a storybook we just read to an argument they just had. They appear to have a difficult time articulating their experiences and thoughts orally. And this being the case, their writing, of course, is just as poor.
The famed (yet notorious) developmental pediatrician, Dr. Mel Levine, once wrote in his book A Mind at A Time, that many individuals who exhibit aggressive or oppositional behavior often have expressive language disorders. This is affirmed by Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development, where Kohlberg says that cognitive skills do affect one’s ability to make good and moral decisions.
I thought about my students and how many of them are not given the chance to express themselves freely and well. This is probably why instead of talking things over or taking time to think, they usually resort to PDA – public display of aggression (har, har…corny, but true).
WANTING TO BELONG
“Bakit ‘di mo alam pangalan ng kaklase mo dati?!” (Why don’t you know your former classmate’s name?!)
It baffles me that my kids have gone through an entire school year without knowing their classmates’ names. It dawned on me how detached these kids are from school. Many do not have a sense of school spirit nor do they feel like they have their own space inside the walls of the school. This made me think about belonging. How can we ask our students to invest on their studies when they feel detached from school? How can we ask them to take care of the classroom when they feel like it’s not theirs?
My students and I have been working hard on “building” our classroom together. For the points they earn with behaving well, I reward them with more items for our learning centers – these may come in the form of adding more books, putting simple toys, or allowing them to doodle and use art materials.
Currently, the kids have reached enough points to have clay in the art station. The next thing they’ll try to work for would be board games and other simple indoor games. On the instructional side, I plan to put flashcards, a simple listening station and some games that explicitly teach numeracy or literacy skills.
When children are given the time and space to work and play, there’s not much room for aggression and anger – just more fun, laughter and creativity. Here’s simple proof:
I’m horrible with puzzles and while my students cheered, telling me I can put the puzzle back, a student approaches me and shows me that he created a ball out of it. It was probably one of the best in-your-face-teacher kind of moments. 😛
And so the Robert Fulghum poem goes:
Don’t hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life –
Learn some and think some
And draw and paint and sing and dance
And play and work everyday some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out into the world,
Watch out for traffic,
Hold hands and stick together.
Be aware of wonder.”
*names have been changed due to the Child Protection Policy (This is also the reason why all my pictures cannot show the faces of the kids – I’m not really the world’s worst photographer, FYI.)