It's Contagious!

Hedda Sharapan“Attitudes are caught, not taught.” That’s a Quaker saying that was one of Fred’s favorites. I found a great example of that last week, and it reminded me of how much children “catch” from you!

The example came up in a conversation I had with a mother who told me her toddler Janaya sings constantly. She’s always humming and singing melodies that sound very much like “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and “Old McDonald.” In fact, Janaya’s first words were “E-I-E-I-O!”

The mother added that she herself isn’t musical, but she was pretty sure that her daughter “caught” it from her wonderful early childhood teacher who loves to sing and often accompanies the children’s songs with simple chords on the autoharp. No wonder Janaya loves to sing!

I hope you realize how contagious your interests and attitudes are. At one of his NAEYC keynotes, Fred Rogers urged early childhood professionals to “…love what you do in front of the children…to share your special interests with them.” What makes them want to “catch” it from you? Your relationship. When children know that you care about them…and they see that you care about something…they want to care about that something, too!

That even happened with Fred. During his graduate school studies he often brought along his puppets when he was working with children I’ve heard that right after his visits, the children dug down deep into the toy bins to bring out the puppets for their own puppet play.

That even happened TO Fred. Watch how he catches Ella Jenkins’ love of music in this Neighborhood video – and then creatively turns it into his own fun with music.

Here are some ideas that may make you feel even more comfortable about sharing the things you enjoy with the children:

You don’t have to be good at it.

You don’t have to have a good singing voice or be a talented dancer or artist. Children are the best audience. And they’re very forgiving! They’ll catch your pleasure in doing it.

Let the children know about the things that interest you.

For example, children can catch your interest in gardening or nature, when you’re on a walk and point out and name the flowers you see. I also know a teacher who was a fashion illustrator and often draws pictures of women in gowns when she sits with the children at the art table. Some of the 4-year-old girls have begun making their own drawings of women – of course with long flowing gowns!

Your silence can be contagious too.

Even your quiet interest can be contagious when children see you stop at a window with hushed delight just to listen to the sound of the rain.

You may never know which children are “catching” something from you...maybe using it in their own way…and which ones might even use it later on in their adult lives. But I think we can trust that happens, as Fred reminded us -- “By the time a child grows up, that child’s first teacher and second teacher and all the child’s important adults will have been incorporated into that child’s development. That’s the way it is with children. And although they might not remember clearly, those of us who were the educators of their early lives will always be part of who they are.

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