Teaching Peace with Elyse: Lessons Learned from the Children

A colleague recently asked me how after 30 years in the field I remained open to learn from him, a new teacher. I thought about his question. While I do consider myself an expert in my niche, as a lifelong learner I attempt to stay open to what others, including my youngest students, can teach me. Keeping a beginner’s mind is my daily practice.

As an artist-in-the-schools, I first entered the field of early childhood education through a side door. I experienced the children before I had a solid background in theories of learning and development.

Initially, much of what I learned was through trial and error. Yet, I loved allowing my observations and interactions with the children help creatively develop my program of peace education through the arts.

In viewing life through the lens of a teacher who is also a student, this is what I have learned from preschoolers:

  • Be curious about everything around you
  • Know when you are ready: it’s ok to take your time before jumping
  • Get your hands dirty, use all your senses to explore
  • Allow yourself to respond creatively even as an observer
  • Concentration increases through staying engaged
  •  Confidence grows from repetition
  • Take breaks when you need to
  • Use your words
  • Play hard
  • Have fun

As a book with an appropriate name suggests, perhaps Everything I’ve Ever Needed to Know I Learned from Preschoolers.

A Note to Teachers:

When my program reached the toddler stage and could stand on it’s on, I paused to observe and listen deeply to my colleagues, all of whom were teachers. They collectively held a wealth of information to absorb, study and engage with.

Informed by my colleagues and staff development workshops, I became fascinated with further exploration in the field of early childhood education. My lived experience as seen through the thinking lenses of leaders in the field added weight and value. Their theories also articulated what I sensed, but had yet to find words for.

Many of you began with studying the luminaries of early childhood education before classroom experience. Whatever the starting point, using their thinking and reflecting lenses to see the children offers great insights and understanding. This knowledge helps us better support the children and extend their learning.

At a staff development workshop given by two teachers who attended a conference in New Zealand, I was introduced to these two rich resources for our lifelong education as creative teachers:

Reflecting Children’s Lives; A Handbook for Child Centered Curriculum, 2nd edition, Curtis and Carter, Redleaf Press, 2010.

Getting Started with Schemas; Revealing the Wonderful World of Children’s Play, Van Wijk, Nikolien, New Zealand Playcentre Foundation, 2006.