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Begin with Yourself
The Impression Ben Made
Kelly Matthews, Family Child Care Provider
There are times
when I have thought I was in control of the educa-
tional process I provided in my classroom. On those days, things went along
as planned, and I would say to myself, “This is a good day. This is how it was
supposed to be.” I planned these activities, then kids would watch a bit, try it
out themselves, and “get it,” taking away from the process what I had entered
in my mental lesson plan for the day. My job as a teacher was complete. After
all, that was what I was being paid to do—teach the kids what to do.
After awhile, this process began to feel flat. Something was missing, even
though my teaching was often complimented. While I heard from outside
sources I was doing a good job, I felt conflicted. I could tell something
wasn’t right, even though kids were working with materials, listening to
directions, and getting along with each other. I couldn’t ignore the voice
inside saying more is possible—something not so predictable; something that
was more than making sure kids followed what was in each day’s little boxes.
Listening to that voice was the beginning of a new way. Even though I
ended up changing settings, I was able to keep that voice alive, and in fact, it
became a guiding voice. I thought back over my assumptions about what a
teacher’s job was. Previously, I had thought that it was about teaching kids
what to do, but I realized this was a false idea. My job was to help them think,
make that thinking explicit, and help them to act on that thinking. This was
a completely different way to approach my interactions with my students.
Instead of planning activities that would (superficially) expose them to a
number of topics over the week, month, or year, I began spending more time
with open-ended objects that let us—both the children and me—explore, bump
up against problems, and then figure out how to solve those problems. I also
stepped back from acting as expert (bringing something to show them, as well
as showing them how to interact with it or do it before letting them practice).
I had another important realization. Even though I knew a lot about cer-
tain things (dinosaurs, playdough, and the other staples of many early educa-
tion programs), I didn’t know what my students knew; I only knew what they
could repeat back. More importantly, I didn’t know how they came to the
“knowing” of ideas. How were they constructing their personal knowledge?
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30 Chapter 1
What would they do with it? What would it take for them to change a held
idea? What connections would they make between experiences?
I embraced curiosity. It was a way to be true to this dynamic process,
and I became a learner alongside my students. One day I set out sets of
dough and screws. As Ben was working with his dough and screws, I called
attention to the method I used to make a full-length impression. He made
one himself, but then he took it one step further by building on my idea with one of his
own. He started making impressions with just the head of the screws. He paid
careful attention to the marks he made. Some were Phillips head screws,
while others were flathead screws. Ben picked up another screw, examined
the head, and exclaimed, “This one’s different!” even before making an impres-
sion in the dough. Here was a child making connections.
As a teacher-learner in that moment, I realized that in giving Ben a
method of making imprints, he took up that idea but went even further
than what I had expected. If I would have done a lesson limited to “making
an impression,” I would have missed this moment in which Ben showed
his inquisitiveness, flexible thinking, and ability to bring knowledge to a
new context and apply it. I have come to understand it’s not only what Ben
learns, but what he teaches me about how he learns that is invaluable.
I sometimes forget what a complicated, collaborative process education
is. Luckily I have children like Ben who remind me.
Share Your Reflections with Kelly
Write a letter to Kelly at KMatthewsReflect@gmail.com with your reflec-
tions on how she was learning to rethink her approach to curriculum.
Consider including your thoughts about the following:
• What did Kelly think she was “missing” in her approach to curricu-
• How did she use the environment and materials to learn about the
• What new insights did she have about her role as a teacher?