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.


Summer Week 1: Big or small, schools are schools

As we document the experiences of our teachers and children this summer, I will also share my reflections as the leader of a new program and an educator transitioning from K12 leadership to early childhood education (ECE). I hope you will gain some insight into what makes Kaleidoscope unique as we shape our school for the future. 

Throughout the first week of our summer program, I’m reminded that there are far more similarities than differences between K12 leadership and the world of ECE. I began the summer thinking that ECE would require less maintenance than K12 schools. However, I quickly learned that the components that make for schools: strong leadership, cohesive staff & student culture, professional development, parental communication & involvement, etc… are the same for any age group.

The idea that early childhood centers are “just daycares” is a misnomer. In reality, the job of ECE teachers is often more nuanced than their K12 counterparts. At Kaleidoscope, there is virtually no “sit and get” instruction because we know that young children learn best through play and having experiences for themselves. During every moment of the day, a child is learning multiple things for the very first time: how to be away from home, how to clearly express his/or her needs with words, how to operate on a new schedule, how to build a tower that won’t fall over, how to share with a friend… The list goes on and on. Our learning centers include materials for children to explore social skills, fine & gross motor skills, drama & imagination, art, literacy, and early STEM. A skilled ECE teacher must balance how to help children effectively navigate these variables while also helping them to build a sense of independence from adults.

Effective professional development for teachers is a critical component of any school. As a long time high school leader, I started this venture sometimes feeling like an impostor, often remaining deferential to anyone who had more experience in ECE. Just one day of our full program flipped my thinking. (I’m also incredibly grateful to have talented and knowledge advisers to guide on matters specific to young children.) Many best practices in K12 hold true in ECE. For example: Questioning. Asking open-ended questions for any age, from adult professional development, to high school students, to preschool age children, engages people in discussion and therefore increases learning. The content may be different: “What makes a good lesson plan?” vs. “What makes US expansionism moral or immoral?” vs.  “What makes something spooky?” But the idea is the same.

In the overview of our first week, our teachers reflections are likely familiar to ECE and K12 educators alike: building shared rules and expectations, discussions in Community Circle, and navigating peer conflict as we get to know our new friends.

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