Music to My Ears
I had a horrible day,
Why? Didn’t you like your lunch?
No, I didn’t get to work with my friends.
Wait, you worked with me. I’m your friend.
Oh yeah, I forgot.
Lower El students at dismissal
I take great delight in listening to children’s interactions and conversations throughout the day. My office is ideally positioned to hear the morning passers-by and the afternoon departures. Often, I am walking behind or in front of students who are engaged in robust talk about the issue at hand, different ages, different concerns.
Children live in the present, they don’t look too far ahead or behind. Being present is a unique gift of childhood. Children aren’t afraid to ask questions and they have very practical ideas for solutions. They typically know what they need, and most certainly, they know what they don’t need. Children enjoy connecting, talking and helping. They appreciate being acknowledged and heard. They readily receive assistance when offered in a practical subtle way.
Last Friday, I walked out of the office just in time to join the nappers walking single file down the stairs to the nap room. It was enlightening. I was told by Tegan (3) to walk straight, look at my feet and hold the railing, “we were going to nap”. I said, “thank you for helping me”. A few others kept turning around to see if I was listening and walking as instructed. Another child felt the urge to tell me an important story of a dog who had lost his family. Without emotion, he said, “… and they never came back;” he smiled warmly at me and reached out to hold my hand. I just listened and smiled.
Listen and smile. This is something I have learned to do over time, a long time. The children have taught me well. Listening does not always come naturally to adults. Our vast experiences have well prepared us to speak, answer and, most commonly, direct children without listening to what they are saying. Active listening is the key component to strong, healthy, and thriving relationships with children.
Active listening takes time and skill. Three key pathways to practicing effective listening are:
• Availability – am I present for this child?
• Acknowledgement – Have I expressed my recognition (i.e., stopped what I am doing or saying and give full attention, eye contact?)
• Assistance – how can I best serve this child?
I encourage adults to set time aside each day for listening and observing, a specific time when you are not thinking about your “to do” list, holding your phone or calendar, or in a conversation with someone else.
Sit, watch and listen. What do you hear?