Week 2: Deeply Listening to Children

Love: We warmly express our care for others.

“The first duty of love is to listen.”

As a parent, I thought that I was a good listener. When someone needed a translator to understand my daughter’s words, I was ready. I was the first person in the world to “speak Edith.” I was fluent. I took great pride in this. But as our teachers began discussions with the children about what it means to “listen to our friends,” I began to reflect on what it really means for adults to listen to children. I began to think that maybe I hadn’t listened as deeply as I thought. We believe young children are amazing and capable individuals. I wondered if our level listening reflected that belief.

I decided to dive deeper with Kaleidoscope teachers: What does it mean to listen deeply to a child?

Listen First

Very quickly upon this reflection, we realized that our impulse as adults was to talk first and listen second (or in some cases not at all). Our approach to conflict resolution immediately shifted. If two children were fighting over building materials, in the beginning, I would say to a teacher, “Can you go talk to them?” By the second week of the program, that changed to, “Can you go listen in?” Now, teachers let children talk to each other before jumping in with adult intervention. Sometimes, kids work it out. Sometimes, they don’t. But listening gives us a window into each child’s thought process and allows us to learn more about how to support his/her social development.

Ask Open-Ended Questions

I used to think that my job as an adult was to teach children everything I possibly could. I’ve realized over time, that children are more competent than I ever imagined. At Kaleidoscope, our aim is to help children learn. The best learning comes from play…. when adults get out of the way. This allows children to deeply explore materials and ask/answer their own questions. This also lets children learn how to be friends from… their friends!

The first week of the program, a child made a mocking sound (“naa naa naa naa naa”) to another child during outside exploration. A teacher immediately said, “That’s not very nice.” The first child ran away, fearful of getting in trouble. That statement of adult judgment ended the learning for both the adult and the child.

Now, we’re working on leading with open-ended questions:

  • Why did you do that?
  • How did that make you feel?
  • Was it your intention to make him feel that way?
  • How can we make this better?
  • What can we do next time?

Listening to children’s responses facilitates learning in all directions. Children learn from each other that mocking sounds can hurt feelings. Adults learn from children that they didn’t actually know that “naa naa naa naa naa” was unkind. Children learn that their words are valued, not judged, by adults.

Our Growth = Children’s Growth

Now, in the third week of the program, our friends are working out their own issues at a much higher rate and forming deeper bonds as a result.

For example: Yesterday, one of our friends wanted to carry a baby crib across the room. A second friend grabbed the other side and began to carry it. The first friend yelled “Stop” and they pulled it back and forth. The teacher asked a series of open-ended questions which led to these responses: “She was dragging it. It looked heavy,” and “I didn’t want help. I’m strong.” Without listening, the situation could have easily been viewed as kids just fighting over a toy. Instead, we learned about the kindness of one child and independence of another. The children learned to assume the best about one another’s intentions.

This morning, the same two children had a totally different experience in the same scenario. “Can you help me with this?” They carried the crib over gleefully and went about their day. While not every scenario ends so neatly, the more we hold true to the principle of listening, the more positive moments we see between friends.


Our lessons learned…

  • Listen first. Contain the urge to immediately impart your adult wisdom on a situation. Wait. Listen. Learn from what children are saying.
  • Ask open-ended questions. Approach without adult judgment or agenda. Rather than making assumptions about a child’s intentions, ask a question that allows them to explain.
  • For Families: Make time to listen each day. Each day, make time to deeply listen to your child. It can be hard with the stress of the week and our exponentially growing to do lists. Add this one more item to the top of the list. You may be surprised what you learn.