"You Have Good Ideas"

Without Commentary

Hedda Sharapan

Many educators these days are talking about “21st Century Skills” – the skills that prepare children for jobs in the future. I’ve heard people talk about them as the 4 C’s -- creative thinking, critical thinking, communicating and collaborating.  When you think about it, they all have their foundation in early childhood.

I heard an interesting story the other day about two of those skills. A teacher told me about a boy in her class who said with great pride, “My Dad says I have good ideas.”

I’d say that boy has a head start on “21st Century Skills.” His father recognizes and supports that he comes up with creative ideas, and that he can communicate them. When children know we care about them and the things they do and say, they’ll keep working at them.

All through the Neighborhood series Fred let his young viewers know that their ideas matter and that they have much to contribute to a conversation.  He asked questions, and he encouraged them to talk about their thoughts and feelings.

In the above video, Fred is visiting with children who are doing a craft activity at the library. As you watch, you can see him modeling ways to show children that we’re genuinely interested in their ideas and in their ability to tell us about them.    

Here are some ways we can encourage "21st Century Skills":

Actively listen

When you repeat or paraphrase, as Fred did on the video, you’re showing that you really are listening. Think about how much you add through the warmth, amazement or delight in your voice, or when you ask open-ended questions, like “Tell me about it.” Isn’t it ironic that by listening, we’re encouraging communication!

Come down to their eye level

Children can tell when you’re genuinely interested in what they do and say – especially when they see the expression on your face. (When we’re standing, what they see at eye level are our knees!) When you sit, bend down or kneel at the children’s level, you’re giving a clear signal that you want to see and hear what they’re doing and saying.

Be patient

It may not be easy, but it helps if you can be patient through the silence that may come after you ask a question or make a comment. Keep in mind that children might be too focused on what they’re doing to talk, or they might need a bit more time to put their thoughts into words. Or maybe they have had so little experience with someone who really listens that they need some time to trust that you care. You may be surprised at what comes next -- if you can wait through the silence.

Applaud their ideas

Words are powerful, especially words that help children feel good about themselves. So don’t forget to say them out loud. Keep in mind that positive words create good feelings, which in turn build strong brain connections – making those moments memorable (like the boy who remembered he was told he has good ideas). Of course children’s ideas can sometimes be absurd or outlandish, but we still can let them know it’s great to hear what they’re thinking. And who knows what the creative thinkers who think “out of the box” might come up with!

When you think about it, this attention to children and their ideas has always been important in your work in early childhood. Maybe then, when you hear people talk about "21st Century Skills," I hope you feel proud of the key role that you play in contributing to the children’s success in the 21st Century.

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