Once motivated, a preschooler’s ability to focus and concentrate can expand far beyond our expectations. At times, it is the mastery of the skill itself that attracts a child’s attention. Learning to cut sticky tape at 3 years old can be frustrating, yet the challenge is also exciting. Once the skill of cutting tape is learned, it opens the door to a new world of connecting. I am often amazed at how a young child can stay focused on the project of his or her choice. My classes are for an hour and a half. During one session, I observed the progress of a 3-year-old girl choosing her materials from the recycling boxes.
Green plastic berry baskets first caught her eye. When there is a limited amount of one item, I usually tell all the children to only take what they need. I suggest starting with one or two. As we get to know the children, we can discern who might need prompting about "supply and demand" and who has made an intentional choice. In the case of this 3-year-old, I observed her careful selection of four berry baskets and made no comment as I continued to observe.
Her interest moved to segments of cardboard fruit holders. They’d been given to us, just that morning, by a teacher who offered her caterpillar project for expressive arts repurposing. Four blue cardboard ovals were chosen. This child had something in mind. She then chose the color of her tape and scissors with as much attention as she did the other materials.
After carefully cutting pieces of tape, she used them to outline the top of the berry baskets. I noticed that as she progressed from basket to basket, her estimates of the length of the tape that would fit each side of the basket grew more exact.
She’d stop taping now and then to work on another part of the project. She decorated, also very precisely, the cardboard fruit ovals with sticky jewels (see "Sticky Jewels," blog; July 5, 2012) and then placed one oval in each basket. Then she’d return to the challenging task at hand, the tape trim for the baskets, with renewed concentration.
I’ve attempted to teach this concept of "taking a break" from an arduous task and working on another part of the project. This child innately knew what to do.
She continued with her project for 50 minutes. When it was time to return to the classroom, she placed the four baskets, with great care, in a little shopping bag to take home. She looked up, smiled, and joined her classmates at the door.
- Keep recycled materials fresh.
- New and interesting items for repurposing can be gathered by the parents and from your own and other classrooms.
EFFECTIVE PROMPTS I’ve used with children:
- Take what you need and save some for your friends.
- Start with one or two. After you connect them, come back for more.
- “No collecting without connecting” began as a necessity because the children filled their pockets with the treasures from Expressive Arts.
ADDITIONAL SUGGESTIONS for teachers:
- Being able to play with the materials in the room but needing to connect them in order to bring them home becomes the motivation for building with the materials. (See "No Collecting Without Connecting" blog; April 25, 2012)
- As we get to know the children, we can discern who might need prompting regarding selecting materials and who has made an intentional choice. In the case of this 3 year old, observing her careful selection of four berry baskets, I made no comment.
- When a child is able to master a skill or has found his/her own way to accomplish a task, we teachers can remember this for later.
I plan to be able to say to this savvy 3-year-old, when a classmate has become frustrated with an extended project, “Remember when you were making the berry basket art and you had four baskets to trim with colored tape? I noticed that you would stop and work on decorating the cardboard ovals with sticky jewels and then go back to taping. I liked how you gave yourself a break from the very hard work of taping. Do you think you could help your friend to learn how to do that with his project?”
- Peer mentors are often more effective than our own instruction. They may be thinking, “If my classmate can do this, so can I.”
My next blog will be on Young Children as Mentors.