Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Age, what a concept!

Last week I spent Tuesday and Thursday in my son's class, my final days with those 3-year-old friends. I asssited during station time at the play dough table, helping two boys construct a train to run on their self-created train tracks, and suggesting to another boy that he cut small, medium, and big hearts. As he pushed his cookie cutter into the dough, we recalled the Goldilocks story from the week before. I learned that play dough, which I have eschewed as a parent, actually helps build fine motor skills and that tasks like rolling balls and flattening a pancake thin enough for a cookie cutter to break are not easy for little muscles.

My mentor teachers asked me to take charge of interviewing the children in preparation for the upcoming Father's Day program, which, in order to accomodate dads' work schedules and the end of the school year in early June, before the actual holiday, will be held this coming Saturday. Confident in my ability to talk to preschoolers, a skill I have been working on during my apprenticeship, I enthusiastically agreed. I love filling in blanks, and I thought the job would give me insight into how 3 and 4 year olds think. Looking over the questions on the sheet, which included items such as "My daddy is ____ years old," and "My daddy weighs ___ pounds," I thought the interviews would be easy, that I would finish them quickly and certainly within the 45 minutes allotted. I was wrong.

I realized early in my conversations that not all of the children possessed the conceptual understandings needed to respond to my questions. Some children easily answered "How old is your daddy?" with numbers ranging from 5 to 72. These answers amused me, though the answers that ranged in the 42-47 range, which were probably accurate, amazed me. I imagined in those cases, daddy's age had been mentioned or discussed at home. I wondered, however, if some of these children were guessing a number that fell within an appropriate age range because they understood numerical values. My son was one of the children who answered my query with "I don't know." For these children I had to guide them to a numerical response by asking their own ages and then asking them to guess how old their daddy was. Nearly all of these cases put their daddy's age at "5."

I had to work hard to understand and translate some of the children’s responses, and I was only able to finish 10 interviews the first day. Having missed Wednesday for university obligations, I returned to the preschool on Thursday determined to finish my task and to enjoy my last day with these friends. While I sat at the play dough station, one girl said to me, “Where were you last time?” I was touched that she noticed my absence, and I realized that I had been accepted quickly into the classroom community by these children. Just as I had been with my four-year-old friends in January, I was sad to say goodbye and amazed at how quickly the students adapted to my presence and trusted me as a teacher.

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