moving at the speed of children

People have often asked me how I can work with young children. 
     "Aren't they wild and busy and on-the-go all the time?
     Don't they go in all different directions?
     Aren't they moody and needy and unpredictable?" 
Ummmm, not really, no, not really.

3-year-olds quietly fascinated by chickens drinking water.

green green green paintings....perhaps this child created ALL these works?

Children are capable and focused.
They are self-directed and have their own interests.
They express their feelings and opinions.
Those are the kind of people I get to work with daily.
They just happen to be 3-, 4- or 5 -years-old.

This post is inspired by a post by Elise Edwards at Yo-Yo Reggio who wrote about 10 Important Things I Am Still Trying to Learn. I latched onto #4 in particular having to do with moving at the speed of children. The other 9 are wonderful, by the way, and definitely things I continue to practice and refine!

The idea of moving at the speed of children caused me to reflect on the value of my teaching days. Ironically, moving at the speed of the children is what I rely on - it informs the content of my teaching, it informs the needs of the moment, it informs me that THEIR AGENDA is most important instead of racing through My Agenda (whatever that might be).

"Children, like anything else of value, should not be hurried." (anon)

Sure, it is not always easy or comfortable moving at the speed of children. The moment  might be S-L-OW-E-R than you are hoping to go - "we are heading to library class and two children are interested in learning to tie their shoes" - or much FASTER than you'd planned "three children who'd like to dance as you are starting to read a book". Hmmm, what would YOU do in both these instances?

Surely, there are ways to support the pacing the children are trying to set and adjust yourself accordingly. Most of the time, for me, I CAN actually move at the child's speed. Only occasionally do I need to suspend their agenda to accommodate my own. I have to stay aware of when I am pushing to have my agenda run because "it is easier."

I am always thinking if the the clock is more important than the moment with the child. 
The clock does not often win.

mud kitchen work takes time and focus to really get the mud cooking just right!

a close up photo of child and teacher together -
a quiet, slow moment.

the careful placement of the block in one simple moment to create a balanced, unusual design.

3 Different Speeds of children:

The Zipper. One boy and a task.
I was thinking about my friend Joshua and the extended time we both spent at his backpack working on THE ZIPPER! I have a strong visual of just me, him and his backpack - that was our world with the task of zippering at hand.
Josh was used to his family and friends opening his backpack for him and then zipping it closed for him. Josh was nearly 5 and really didn't have an idea about How The Zipper Works on his own backpack.
I knew he was capable - he just never had the chance to really try to work it himself. Josh and I spent many minutes at snack time and lunch time for days and days giving attention to his zipper: How to hold one side of the fabric, how to look with your eyes where the zipper-pull is heading, how to yank and zip and open and close. Josh was able to master the zipper after some time together AND other children becoming helpers for him to learn instead of doing it for him.
Moving at Josh's pace to slow down enough for him to work his small motor, hand-eye coordination and understand the concept of how zippers work was important to give him the confidence that he Could do this on his own.

Good Morning.
One boy, the whole class and Patience.
Kyle was a quieter boy. He struggled with group time and speaking in a moment's notice. We never put him on the spot to say Good Morning during our morning meetings, yet we wanted to make sure that he didn't literally get skipped over  - we didn't want Being Skipped Over to be acceptable. We wanted to make sure everyone was a valued member of our class in the way they were comfortable. We had different games for Good Morning and each time when it was Kyle's turn, we would wait to see what he would do or not do. We did stop at his turn to give him time to think if he'd like to participate to say Hello, to say "please pass" , to give a wave or a blink or a thumbs up. I felt it was important that the whole class didn't learn that Kyle was someone to be skipped over. Most of the time, we'd wait a bit and Kyle would give a little hand wave or a head nod - great! I knew our work was successful when one day when we were at Kyle's turn, another child said "oh, it is Kyle's turn...he likes to think about how he wants to say Good Morning" and the other children simply happily agreed. That is being a valued member at its best. Wow.

Fossils in the Dirt.
The whole class unearths a project.
An exploration of "fossils" unearthed in our school yard, in the dirt, under rocks. During outside time one day, the children discovered 'prints' of leaves and bugs left in the hard dirt and dusty rocks. We took photos and explored every day for more "fossils" that lived at our school. The discovery of the fossils happened in an instant by two children: the study of living things, nature, and imprints was a collective exploration by the class of 16 children over a couple weeks. This exploration could not have happened if we didn't follow the children's pace and discoveries. I had not planned this project, yet I did jump at the chance to guide the discovery into being a project.

It is like a treasure map to move at the speed of children - their interests, their discoveries, their search to make meaning of their world.

watching water drip drip drip from the water table - life should be that simple.

What is YOUR speed with children?
Are you able to join in and follow their agenda?


  1. What a wonderful post! I love the fact that you gave the little guy at group times time to think and respond in a way he felt comfortable with! I LOVE this! What a respectful way to help all the children learn that each child is an important part of the group!

  2. The key statement for me: I have to stay aware of when I am pushing to have my agenda run because "it is easier."

    Often I think we adults respond in default mode - because it's easier for us. We tell them to hurry up or slow down; we say "no" - because it's easier for us. But if the goal is to make it easier for me, when will the learning happen? My "default" should be their speed, not my own.

    Thanks for a great post. I'm off to reflect more on moving at the kids' speed.

  3. @Pam - thanks! Gotta say, it was very very quiet for many minutes some days "waiting" for Kyle's nod :)

  4. @Scott - Exactly my challenge, too, to not make things easier just so that they are faster or on my agenda. Granted, sometimes it does have to happen, yet most of the time Pausing is worth the delay.

  5. Great post! I have been thinking about Elise's wonderful post as well and the things I am still learning, going at the speed of the children can feel daunting at first but it can take you in some many amazing directions.

  6. @Danielle - Thanks for your comments. Yes, Elise's post of 10 big ideas is lingering in my mind, too, and always worth a revisit!

  7. Hi, I found this post by way of Janet glad I did! I admire how well you adapt to the kids' pace. I'm still learning to do so with my 20 month-old son. The funny thing is, I've noticed that when I adjust to his speed things go sooo much smoother. It's actually easier for ME if I adapt to his time scale, rather than trying to rush him or slow him down. I sometimes forget this when I feel rushed. Thank you for reminding me how very important it is not to miss "the moment"!

  8. @Sylvia - Thanks for finding my blog! I am such a fan of Janet Lansbury and her work :)
    Great points about adapting to your son's pace which in turn makes things run smoother overall. Doesn't mean we let children literally run the show all the time, yet we can make adjustments that create more of a partnership instead of leader/follower. Glad to have connected with you!

  9. I sometimes think that even the concept of "pacing" or any kind of progression is an adult construct that prevents us from honestly being with the children. For very young children it's not about fast or slow, but rather about the moment. It's the main thing I love about working with young children; they remind me that this moment is what is most important. What makes it so hard for me is that my big calcified adult brain keeps stepping outside of the moment to look ahead, to plan, to anticipate, to check the clock -- all important things, but part of a different agenda.

    This is a wonderful post. Very thought provoking. I suspect I'll be reflecting on it for days! =)

  10. There's so much resistance to doing this, though, isn't there? The bigger the care centre, the more it seems that we're fighting other people's agendas and running by the clock. It's a constant frustration to me that some people can't NOTICE the children's speed.

    Once you let expectations go and get in the children's 'zone', though, it's wonderful... the small things become big things and you see magic happening before your eyes.

    Great post!

  11. @Tom - I agree that "pacing" is an adult construct, exactly. The fact that we/educators are thinking ahead of the moment, planning for the next thing, trying to support other teachers/parents, all that, keeps us from being present with children as much as we'd like. Being in the moment and partnering with children are big wins when they can happen :)

  12. @Aunt Annie - Thank you for your comments and nice to meet you! Yes, the bigger the center, the more 'stuff' is allowed to supersede the reason we (hopefully) are there: to be with the children and uplift their learning. Love the magic when you can see it :)

  13. What a lovely post Jeanne! I couldn't agree more with you. If we just take some breaths there is a world (better an universe) to discover in a child. I am very very grateful to guide and play with these little BIG souls. And for our connection also <3

  14. @Angelique - Thanks :) I am so glad we connected, also!


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