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Abby Connors - Early Childhood Arts Educator & Author
Abby Connors : Prepare to Be Amazed

Prepare to Be Amazed

By Abby Connors

I've been teaching young children for over twenty years, and every day I'm amazed at my students' creativity. In fact, almost every day I teach, at least one student shares an idea I've never seen or heard before!

When I tell this to teachers at my workshops, I see a few indulgent smiles ("Yes, you love kids, we get it") and a few frankly skeptical raised eyebrows. But it's true — almost every day I see something completely new. Because I'm looking for it. I'm listening for it. I'm prepared to be amazed.

Why do we need to prepare to see and hear what's right in front of us?

Because, generally speaking, we grownups are a pretty unobservant bunch. For instance, you'd think you'd notice a gorilla running around during a basketball game, but in a famous experiment, most people didn't. (See the video here.)

And when the world-famous violinist Joshua Bell played the music of Bach and other composers in a subway station like street musician, hundreds of people walked past without watching or pausing to listen (article here). They didn't expect to hear great music in that context. They weren't prepared. (Oddly enough, or perhaps not oddly at all, most of the few who did stop to listen were young children!)

I'd hate to miss out on a free concert by one of the world's most gifted musicians. And I'd hate to miss my students' creative efforts. After all, I can't encourage and nurture creativity in the classroom if I don't notice it when it happens! So I'm prepared.

I'm prepared to be amazed by Taylor's twisting, flip-flopping clapping style. I'm prepared to be amazed when Aditya transforms his rhythm sticks into anteater tongues. I'm prepared to amazed when Victoria performs a wild jungle dance, when Carlos makes up an arm-swinging movement with his fingers laced together, and when DeAndre jumps up in an impromptu dance-story about a cat and a dog.

I'm prepared to be amazed so I can affirm and encourage my students' creativity every day.

Here are some ways to prepare to be amazed:

1. Decide. Decide that it's important to recognize and nurture your students' creative thinking. Decide to make it a priority in the classroom.

2. Affirm. It helps me tremendously to repeat affirmations, to plant a seed of intention in my mind. The best times for me are last thing at night and first thing in the morning, when my mind is relatively uncluttered by everyday concerns. I mentally affirm: "My students are clever and imaginative," "I love to see and hear my students' creative ideas," and similar statements. It may sound silly, but it really works!

3. Observe. Be on the lookout (and the listen-out) for unusual, interesting, novel ways of doing things that your students come up with. Look at their hands and feet when they dance and play instruments. Listen to their word choices and their tone of voice when they sing or tell stories.

4. Clarify. If you're not sure what a student is doing, gently clarify. Ask questions such as "Is that a robot?" or "Are you being an animal?" That's how I found out about the anteater tongues!

And finally, remember:

5. If it's not "right," it might just be creative. Try not to jump to the conclusion that a student is "wrong" when they may just "hear a different drummer," as Thoreau put it. If you and your class are dancing like snowflakes and one kid is stomping around like a bear, he may simply be creatively expressing his own feelings, whether of anger, strength, or independence. Once this happened and I remarked to the young stomper,

"You're a very heavy snowflake!"

"I'm a dinosaur snowflake," he explained.

Creative ideas don't always appear in ways we expect, but we can be ready for the unexpected — when we're prepared to be amazed. •

© 2011 Abby Connors. All rights reserved.

Abby ConnorsAbby Connors is an early-childhood music educator, author and presenter. More »

3/25/11