helping children develop creative thinking


The three-year-old intern

Posted by teachcreativity on June 24, 2013 at 3:00 PM

I knew the first day I met her that Caroline was not just another student. She obviously had many more responsibilities than finishing her snack and putting toys away. Apparently, it was Caroline’s job to tell me when I could begin my music class – “Wait, Miss Abby, Ayush is in the bathroom.” Seating arrangements were also her responsibility – “Miss Abby, Tyler and Jeremiah aren’t supposed to sit together.” Caroline was also in charge of song selections – “No, let’s not sing that, let’s sing ‘Wheels on the Bus’” – and clarifying my instructions for the other children. “NO, Stephanie, Miss Abby said not to play the drums yet!”

Caroline was clearly an unpaid intern ( unless she was indeed being paid by the school, which I somehow doubt).

I’ve worked with many young unpaid interns over the years. Oh, they’re not always three – they’ve been as young as eighteen months and as old as kindergarteners – which is the oldest group I teach. But they’ve all had that “special something” that set them apart. Some may call it bossiness. But I think there’s more to it than that.

First, I think it’s a sign of a strong independent streak. Lots of young children just don’t take well to the role of subservient order-taker. They need to demonstrate their own power and personal strength. I’ve noticed that even if I give them a clear direction, like “Please sit next to Dylan,” they’ll often make the idea their own, saying something like “I’m going to sit next to Dylan” as if they’d just thought of it.

Secondly, these unpaid interns have what in older children and adults are called “leadership skills.” The other children listen to them. These students are comfortable in positions of authority. This is really a positive trait – we just don’t usually think in those terms when it comes to three-year-olds.

And these young children are often remarkably verbal and communicative – and isn’t that what we want for our students? They also demonstrate excellent auditory memory, remembering rules, song lyrics, and sometimes, just about every word their teacher has ever said. Best of all, the unpaid interns love to share their creative ideas. “Let’s all clap this way.” “I know a song about a fish – can I sing it?” “How about if we all get up and jump like the frogs in the story?”

So all in all, there’s a big upside to having these sometimes exasperating “unpaid interns” in our classes. As much as possible, without completely abandoning our lesson plans or neglecting our quieter students, we should encourage these “little leaders” to express their energy and enthusiasm. After all, they may easily grow up to be the early-childhood teachers of the future!

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