planning for engagement

I have been thinking about the level of engagement that the children have with their environment in my new setting.

What pulls children in?  What makes them choose an activity or material and really engage with it?

I think that children are engaged when they are the ones who choose the outcomes -  they can be finished quickly or linger on, depending on why they have chosen something.  We introduced a sensory table the other day, and eight children played with the sand for 30 minutes.  Part of that is novelty; part of it is true engagement.  Piles were made and destructed, animals were buried and unearthed, and some serious space negotiations happened.  Those kids were really busy.

The space is really really important - I feel like I've always known that, but it is so true right now.  The children don't need to be told what to do, but we (as teachers, parents, caregivers) need to throw out a few ideas and give options.  Children want to be quiet, loud, fast, slow, messy, and deliberate with careful actions, sometimes all within a span of 10 minutes.  And the right space encourages that in a way that doesn't make the adults want to rip their hair out.

We've added a bit of structure to the morning, none of which was there before, and that has been positive.  We sit down together twice - once at the start of the morning, and once before lunch.  We have been listening to stories and singing some songs; one day we drew self-portraits; another day we read Not a Box and then each child drew an idea for pretending with a box on a piece of paper with a square drawn on.  Over the past 4 weeks, my main goal has been to get to know these children and understand what to expect from them, the other teachers, the parents, and the culture of the school in general.  With that information, I can understand my role much more clearly.

I need to support the children as they engage in deep and meaningful play.  This involves so much - the environment, the materials, planning experiences, exploring alongside them, and listening.  I hope that I can listen and then use that information more purposefully than I have in the past.  I have a track record of listening and documenting and then ending up with folders full of photos and little projects that stopped soon after they started.  I've made a heavy goal for myself, but it is one of the most important ones I have made in my eight years of teaching.