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Our Words are Powerful



A woman reading to a group of young children.
A woman reading to a group of young children.

In honor of Valentine’s Day and the month of love, I wanted to talk a little about the words we use with children. I know some people struggle with how to celebrate this holiday with children. Some avoid it altogether and some invent new ways to celebrate it. Even if you choose to avoid Valentine’s Day, there will undoubtedly be children in your class with older siblings or family members who celebrate, and these children may be asking you to celebrate. My hope will be that this article will inspire you to create a way to celebrate this month that feels great for you and for the children in your care. 


My daughter has gotten very interested in Valentine's Day this year because she has a friend with a birthday near Valentine's Day. She associates her friend’s birthday with the upcoming holiday which has made her excited to celebrate. We are celebrating this year at home by baking heart shaped cookies and making homemade notes for her preschool classmates. I personally do not buy the pre-made Valentines from the store. Last year, we simply worked on writing friends' names, and this year I will encourage her to think of one thing she values, likes, or appreciates about each child in her classroom, and I will write that on their card for her. 


Now that you know what I plan on doing as a Mom, here are my thoughts as a teacher: 


I have always used Valentine's Day to teach about kindness, friendship, and valuing each other. I make it a purposeful time for everyone to be included and valued in our classroom. We learn about each other's names, likes and dislikes, and talk about what everyone is great at! 


Reflecting on my last few Valentine's Days in the classroom, I had a memory of a little girl and a special assistant teacher who worked in my room. This teacher was so wonderful about playing with the children, and I mean truly, wonderful, magical play. He spent time on the floor with children, he was constantly inventing new games for them, running around with them, and even joining them at the art table to try out the art project of the day. I once heard a little girl tell her friend, “Teacher A. told me that I’m an artist! He really did!” In the weeks to come, this same little girl talked FREQUENTLY about how she was an artist because Teacher A. told her so. She lit up when talking about herself being an artist and continued to spend frequent, intentional, and focused time at the art table. 


I don’t think Teacher A knew how much weight his sentence would carry with this little girl and her passion for art. It really makes me think about how the simple things we say can affect children so greatly. It takes no time at all to tell and show children that they are special, talented, and valued by us. Pay attention to what they are interested in, drawn to, or great at and then talk to them about it. You can do this without using praise, “Your painting is so pretty!” but instead, “Look at how closely you are watching your brush move across the paper and how intentionally you pick the next color. I can tell you are an artist.” Try a sentence like this and then watch the child react. I think you will see light bulbs flashing in their brain and a proud smile come across their face. 


You can use Teacher A’s example of words with all other areas in the classroom; blocks and building for the engineers, sensory play and the science table for the scientists, inventors, and chefs, the movement area for the dancers and the gymnasts, the writing table for the authors and illustrators, and of course the entire classroom for the problem solvers, the friends and leaders, and the helpers! 


A man and a young child playing with childrens toys.
A man and a young child playing with children's toys.

This month for Valentine’s Day, use a whole group gathering as an opportunity to ask the children you work with what others are REALLY GREAT at! Make sure you prepare ahead of time with your own list so you can have ideas for children who might not get mentioned at first. You can extend this activity into small groups and centers, too, with card making and composing secret notes of appreciation. Start a separate list of wonderful attributes that all the children in your classroom hold (as I previously talked about), so that the children can give and use the ideas with each other: chefs, artists, authors, musicians, designers, teachers, architects, problem solvers, heroes, innovators, etc. Refer back to this list often and use it as a project for the month. Watch what happens when children start to watch for and then notice the quiet kiddo who knows a lot about dinosaurs and can growl very loud, or that the friend who spends a lot of time at the sensory table is exceptional at teaching others how to clean up when they are done! This seemingly easy activity can create a whole lot of observation, appreciation, conversation and especially friendship building in the classroom. 


Happy Love Month!



 

Meghan is a born and raised Montanan, mama to a new baby boy, a busy preschooler, and a bonus mom to two amazing teenagers. She holds both a Bachelor's and Master's degree in Early Childhood Education. Meghan is currently working part time with Raise Montana as a project specialist where she writes blogs, curriculum guides, and hosts the seasonal book clubs. Meghan is passionate about using her experience as an early childhood educator and as a mom to bring knowledge and inspiration to Montana child care providers.



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