by Lori Barnum
As the years go by as a teacher you see the children change yet stay the same. At one time having your students interact with technology was of great importance and now, limiting screen time is in the forefront. The one thing that hasn’t changed is the importance of teaching these young humans the ability to understand others. Lynda Mlynar, a preschool director and teacher of Small World Preschool for over 25 years stresses the need to teach listening skills, manners and commonalities to her students. “They need to learn how to care for one another, “They’ll learn their letters and numbers but learning to understand another is a life skill that can’t be measured.” Lynda has a great lesson for the first few weeks of school to discern a child’s level of empathy.
Lynda begins her school year with a simple but very informative activity to show her which students are the most empathetic and those that may need more encouragement. She begins with telling them that cookies will be given at the end of the day for good behavior. She gathers her students in a circle at the end of the day and tells them that they were all very good. She begins handing out two cookies each. However, her bag has only enough cookies for half the students. When she runs out, she says, “Oh, no! We are all out! What should we do?”
Inevitably one student will say, “I can share mine” and the sharing begins. She says that at first you can feel the tension as some children don’t want to share and it feels like the lesson is going south but she says it always works out extremely well. Some students will throw the cookies into their mouth immediately letting Lynda know she’ll have to work a little harder on this one. Another may give all their cookies away and she knows that this one has a real soft heart and maybe she needs to keep an eye-out, so they aren’t taken advantage of. Some will share one and keep the other and others have divided their second cookie in half – barely sharing. If at any point the remaining children don’t get a cookie, she says she’ll go look deeper into the cupboard and, voila! The problem is solved, and no one is left out.
She ends the lesson with asking questions about how it felt to share, how it felt to have someone share with you, how it felt to be without and left out. She has an important conversation about the importance of sharing and what is expected out of everyone.
Experts say that the most important years are the first seven. In the middle of these years from 3-5 our little ones are absorbing, reflecting, repeating, and modeling everything that is shown to them and they model this same behavior to each other. Providing an environment of expectations of compassion and kindness will only enhance our students but make our job of teaching so much easier.