The great kiddy experiment

Kindergarten Graduation Ceremony 2011
Photo for illustrative purposes; my tykes were smaller and not the stand still type. (Photo credit: SFA Union City)

For the past couple of months, I’ve been teaching speech and drama…to toddlers.

It wasn’t what I signed up for. A friend recommended I approach a local children’s drama centre about teaching musical theatre as it’s something I’m passionate about.

Instead I found myself standing in for a teacher who had to stop teaching a session halfway, doing trial or “exhibition” classes for a centre as well as help out with a promotional roadshow.

I thought, “Heck, why not?” New learning experiences are good, right?

At the end of it all, I was feeling drained and incompetent. Something like my stint at PR where I wondered if I was doing anything right at all.

I’d come in with a shiny lesson plan…only to have blank faces staring at me or have to quickly come up with improvised games. The latter consisted of a whole lot of running, man, was there a lot of running. I think I spent at least half my lessons running in imaginary jungles, through the sea, playing sharks and fishes/pirates and sailors/freeze tag.

The greatest takeway for me was, with Pre-K kids…WHEN IN DOUBT, FIND WAYS TO GIVE OUT STICKERS. Not that I believe in bribery. It was more like convincing kids to find goals and once those goals were reached, spoils would be dealt. But call it what you will.

There were days though that were good. Like one class where I had a whole room of parents “observing” my class before deciding whether to plonk good money on it. Boy, was there a lot of pressure. The first 20 minutes were rough. The kids were apprehensive, I was nervous but by the end of it, the kids were huddled around me and one of them was reading a story out loud for me from a book. It was like…magic.

In the end, I decided to retire my preschooler drama teacher cap. It’s far too exhausting to fit into my hectic schedule – 4 hours of prep for one class is more than I can deal with right now. Maybe someday that’ll change.

Things I learned:

1. Kids have excellent BS detectors. Don’t try to be someone else around kids. Be you, at your best. Trying to be extroverted when you’re not just means you’ll come across as fake and few things repel kids more than put-on smiles or feigned enthusiasm. Once I stopped beating myself up about my relative inexperience and trusted in my own capabilities, kids became easier to work with.

2. Don’t get so stuck on an outcome. I realised that the best environment I could create was a fluid one where I could experiment and be flexible. If one activity wasn’t working out, try another.  One kid I had came in crying and didn’t want to leave his mother’s side but by the end of it he was running around, playing games, telling me about his trip to Disneyland and joining in a group rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

3. Kids need to learn there is nothing wrong with them. So many parents came in with kids with “problems”. “He doesn’t talk”, “He’s too shy”, “She needs to open up”, “What does he/she need to improve on?”

To all you parents, I just want to say there is nothing you need to “fix”. Your children are lovable and worthy of love – and that’s what you need to impart to them. I treat my classes as a way for kids to have the chance to make new friends, discover how much fun it can be to let their inner performer out to play and along the way learn other great skills like working as an ensemble, basics of performing and harnessing their imaginations via dramatic play.

What I love most with the kids is when they talk to me and tell me things. Because for some reason, they get that I’ll listen. That I’m present and there. If more parents would do the same for their kids, the world would be a better place.

Forcing creativity or great things from your child isn’t the best way. Creativity in kids is fostered with love, patience and structure. Let your kids surprise you, so you’ll never be disappointed.


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