It's not uncommon for early childhood educators to need to strike a balance between following children's leads and sticking to the classroom schedule. Educators are responsible for assessing children’s progress, understanding skill mastery, and planning accordingly to provide opportunities for children to grow. For these reasons, when educators implement a specific educator-directed activity, it can feel unsettling when students veer from the step-by-step plans the educator has worked hard to plan.
What is Regard for Child Perspectives (RCP) and why is it important?
RCP, as defined by CLASS® 2nd Edition, is: “Educators emphasize children’s emerging sense of self and help children develop and express their unique interests, motivations, and points of view by providing opportunities for children to experience autonomy and direct their own learning. Children’s interests and choices guide classroom experiences and, as a result, children are meaningful contributors to activities.” There are keywords within this definition that can help us understand the importance of RCP in all types of interactions— opportunities, meaningful contributors, and classroom experiences.
We know that joining children’s play during free choice provides ample opportunities for educators to follow their lead and add to the depth of the activity through questions and participation. However, many opportunities for RCP are also available during educator-directed activities. By leveraging their knowledge of children, including anticipation of their responses and engagement needs, educators can be more flexible in activities while encouraging children to express themselves and make meaningful contributions to their learning.
So what might this look like? Let’s explore two scenarios. The first describes a lesson where the educator is not focusing on opportunities for RCP. The second is the same lesson but with the educator intentionally providing RCP. As you read each scenario, consider the impact on the educator and the children.
Let’s take a look at a typical educator-directed 10-minute activity. During small groups, the educator has planned to use pictures of animals to have children classify whether each animal lives on a farm or in a zoo. The educator holds up a picture of a lion and asks the children if it is a zoo or farm animal. The children all say “zoo,” and the educator places it on the zoo pile. The educator holds up the next picture of a horse, and the children identify it as a farm animal. When a duck is shown, and a child says “zoo,” the educator gently explains that ducks don’t live at zoos; they live on farms. When some children start making the animal sounds of the pictures being shown, the educator asks the children to stop by saying, “We are only deciding where the animals live, not making noises.” The children comply, and the educator continues until all the pictures are sorted. Leading the activity this way, the educator accomplishes the lesson’s goal of having the children classify the animal types.
Consider how the educator chose not to encourage children to contribute to the lesson beyond labeling animals as “farm” or “zoo.” What is missed is the opportunity for the learning to be child-centered, one of the indicators for Regard for Child Perspectives, which allows children to make meaningful contributions while engaging with a lesson’s content and receive feedback on connections being made and ideas being sparked at the moment.
Using this same 10-minute activity, let’s see how an educator could increase children’s meaningful contributions and opportunities for RCP while still meeting the lesson goal.
This time, the educator tells the children they will look at some pictures of animals and decide whether they live on a farm or in a zoo. The educator passes out a picture to each child and asks them to look at the picture and think about where it lives. As the educator calls on the children to identify their animal, she asks them why they believe it is a farm or zoo animal (child-centered and child-expression). The children are then asked to go to the dramatic play area if their animal lives on a farm and to the block area if their animal lives in a zoo. As the children go to the designated areas, they begin acting like their animals and making sounds, which the educator encourages as a great way to make this sorting lesson more engaging and meaningful (child-centered, child expression and allows movement).
During the lesson, one child holds up a picture of a duck and says, “Zoo,” and the educator asks why he thinks the duck would live at the zoo. The child explains that he saw ducks living on a pond when he went to the zoo (child expression). The educator tells the child he can decide if his duck is a zoo duck or a farm duck (support for autonomy and leadership). The child quacks and waddles to the block area (allows movement). The goal of classification is achieved when the children are in two groups with their animal pictures at the end of the activity.
Notice that RCP is greatly increased due to this educator’s intentional flexibility in encouraging children’s meaningful contributions during the activity. This scenario also provided evidence of all indicators included in the RCP dimension and still happened within the 10-minute timeframe!
HOW CAN I APPLY RCP IN MY CLASSROOM?
Remember that providing Regard for Child Perspectives means being more child-centered and flexible when facilitating educator-directed lessons and activities. It does not mean throwing out lesson plans and letting the children do whatever they want. Providing RCP will become more natural as educators intentionally practice, but at first, it is easier to start by planning ways in advance to ask for and incorporate children’s ideas during lessons. Think about lessons you’ve led where the children were highly engaged, and you felt really good about how much they learned. You likely provided RCP during those lessons, and the children responded positively to your support. Oftentimes lessons become more effective and memorable when educators take cues in the moment from their students’ ideas, questions, and actions and find ways to meaningfully incorporate the children’s contributions. Think about it like a train that follows a given track (like a lesson plan) but then is able to make both planned and spontaneous stops where passengers are excited to explore and add to their learning experience before hopping back on again toward the destination at the end of the tracks (learning objective).
Creating ways for children to play more meaningful roles during educator-directed learning sets the stage for student engagement, differentiated learning, and positive relationships, increasing opportunities for more effective interactions. When children are encouraged to share the connections they are making and are consistently regarded as meaningful contributors to their own learning, they not only learn more-- they know how to learn.