I remember sitting in a teacher’s meeting and being told by another teacher “You really expect a lot from your 4 year olds”. I have to admit I was a little taken aback by that comment. Yes, it was true I did have high expectations, but I didn’t think they were unreasonable expectations.
I expected them to sit during our structured learning times; to listen to me, my co-teacher, and each other; to use their words to communicate their thoughts and ideas; to be kind and helpful to one another; to follow directions; and to be responsible for their personal items and our classroom items.
Did I expect them always to be successful? Of course not, but I felt it was part of my job to help them learn these skills not only because they are needed in school, but because really they are needed in life. And what I found was that if I set the bar high, they would strive to achieve it. Of course each child had days or moments that were tougher than others. We also worked on strategies that would help them learn to bring themselves back to center. I did not use time outs, but we had a chair in our classroom that they knew was a spot they would go if they needed some time to themselves to calm down. My co-teacher and I were always available to assist them, to give them guidance in how to calm down, or bring themselves back to a point when they could rejoin the group. Sometimes they wanted this assistance and sometimes they acknowledged they just needed time to themselves. And we always talked about what was inappropriate about their behavior and what they could do better next time. When conflicts would arise, I would help both parties to use their words and work to find a solution that felt right. Sometimes this included a hug, a handshake, a drink of water, or even space from the other friend. We used these moments as teachable moments. And as the year progressed I would see each of them start to resolve conflicts without my help. It was a really wonderful feeling to watch this young kids grown and learn and strive to learn.
What this taught me is that yes, maybe I did have high expectations. But they also wanted to meet those expectations. Kids (and even adults) will generally only strive to reach the bar that is set before them. If we as parents, teachers, care givers, etc. set the bar low, that is all they will strive to reach. And this teachs kids, in my opinion, to then set the bar lower for themselves as they grow older.
As a parent, I don’t have really different expectations for my now 3-year-old than I did for my class of 4 year olds. These are skills that I think every child should have, that are needed in order to help our children be successful in their social interactions, in their education, and further on in life. Some days are better than others, of course. But she knows what is expected of her and she is working to gain those skills through experience, practice, and modeling of behavior by daddy and myself.
Why set the bar low? Why not set it high and show kids all they can do and all they can achieve?