Thursday, February 28, 2019

Yes Day

There are many reasons for me to say no to children's various requests. Safety concerns, schedule and time limitations, limited supplies, limited manpower to supervise and clean up messes, generally not feeling like putting one more thing on our agenda that day. 

But if I am going to be really honest, I often say no because I have been conditioned to, in the interest of running a smooth, safe preschool program for children, assume that the worst case scenario can and will happen. If I let them dance on the table, they can and definitely will fall off and break a limb. If I let them run in the classroom, they will obviously slip and crack their head on the corner of a shelf. If I let them use the water from the handwashing station for their sand and mud play, they will definitely do this every day without regard to how cold or late or inconvenient it is to be in wet muddy clothes. 

What I am saying is, 90% of the time I say no, it comes from my own fear and not necessarily on reality.  There is a part of the brain called the Cingulate Gyrus that is overactive or imbalanced in some people (like me), where, in the interest of self-preservation, will automatically interject a "no" without a thought process to support it. I have learned that I have to outsmart this part of my limbic system when I find myself saying "no" too often. 

It becomes tricky here at Beansprouts because the children feel really comfortable asking for things from the teachers. Today, for instance, they asked for chalk to stomp on. I repeated back, unsure whether I heard them right. "You want pieces of chalk to smash with your feet?" "Yes," said the spokesperson of the group, "we need you to get us some sidewalk chalk for stomping".  Since it was a yes day, I gave them all one piece of chalk...with the instruction "only one piece each"... which I TOTALLY regret because, well, in my mind I was thinking they were wasting chalk. Despite my best efforts, I had managed to insert a little "no" into my "yes". Looking back, I see that letting them stomp all of the chalk would not have been a waste of supplies at all. How is drawing with chalk any more valuable than stomping and smashing chalk?  It was a blast for them, and the collective energy around this chalk stomping was surreal. Saying yes to chalk allowed an activity that offered a social experience more valuable than what I could have been able to manufacture myself.

(Side note: a little while later, someone asked to draw a hopscotch game on the patio, so luckily we still had some unstomped chalk!)

Today's Yes day started at the morning art table. We were using felt-tipped markers on paper towels and paper. We discovered that applying water (ahem, or my coffee) with our fingertips diffused the color and turned the paper towel into art that could transfer to the white paper underneath it. The kids asked for more water as their little dishes ran low, and my cingulate gyrus presented me with a beautifully frightening image of an art table that runneth over with marker tinted water, down to the floor, kids slipping, sopping wet clothes. But I said Yes, because this was my commitment to myself and our school today. And they did end up pouring bowls full of water onto their drawings (see our Instagram post). 

But guess what? Even though they were, as a group, at that table for thirty minutes or more with unlimited water refills, I did not find one drop of water on the floor, and rarely had to clean up any water from the table. Again, if I had limited them to one container of water, it would have limited their interest, limited their time at the table, limited their ability to bring this project to its full fruition. I would have stunted their creative expression and artistic development.

Not every day can be a "say yes to everything" day like today. But for today, Yes was my priority. Yes to the child who asked to free climb from the picnic table to the side of the climbing structure. Yes to the kid who asked to have snack 45 minutes early. Yes to all of the kids who raised their hands at story time to share something that ended up being the same thing they shared from the page before. Yes to the kid visually checking in with me to see if it was okay that she was stomping in puddles. Yes to the child who "needed" to change their pants because there was a smudge of dirt on the pocket. Yes to the friend who asked to make several off-topic announcements throughout the portion of circle time that I really wanted to talk about our quality of self-care. Why not? 

In the grand scheme of themes, saying no to these things makes my life more convenient, but in what ways does it rob them? What if that child sharing at circle time is the one memory she takes from today? Or what if the child who asked to change his pants was really trying to alleviate a scratchy seam, but because that was more than he could verbalize, he asked instead to change his pants because of this little smudge of dirt? Maybe my impulsivity toward "no" comes from seeing only a small slice of reality.

Every time I implement a "yes" day, I benefit.  Ultimately, it is for the children. I want to reset and reboot and remind them of how much freedom and independence and trust and respect we give them. But what I get in return is priceless. I get to overcome my own fears and anxieties, my worst-case-scenario thinking that limits our collective opportunity. I get to unpack and inspect my real motives for saying "no". What a gift to be in this profession, where everything I do gets reflected back to me in a way that lends itself to personal growth. 

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