Many people think of young children as loud, talkative creatures with never-ending energy. It seems that wherever you go, you see children playing, chatting, and enjoying their youthful, stress-free lives. While this may be the case for most children, not all have such outgoing personalities. I witnessed this while visiting a school-age after care program.
It was Halloween time and the teachers of the classroom had organized a Fall Festival for the group. There were activities for the children to do in small groups, including an Autumn-themed word search, a cookie-decorating station and Bingo. The group was enjoying the relaxed environment, since the teachers allowed them to be with their friends and move freely to the various activities. One group of girls made jokes and giggled among themselves while doing the word search. A handful of children decorated cookies, licking the icing off their fingers and telling each other about their costumes for Trick or Treating. Bingo was popular as well, with children anxious to win a Blow Pop as reward for a BINGO! After a round or two of the game, I focused on a third grader. I’ll refer to him as Ben. Tall for his age, Ben kept his coat on the entire afternoon and sat off by himself while playing the game. I noticed that around the room, most of the children had found a buddy with whom they were enjoying the day. Ben, however, was slightly slumped in his chair and not talking much. At one point he called “Bingo” but wasn’t heard by his peers or the teacher running the game. After saying it a couple of times he gave up and sat quietly, not even bothering to play.
Another round of the game passed. Some of the children moved on to other stations and a new group came to Bingo. None of them chose to sit with Ben. I was curious if the teacher leading the game would notice. She did, then encouraged Ben to move closer to the others. Ben decided to stay where he was, but he did begin participating in the game again.
This got me thinking about some of the shy children I had taught in the past. Not every child is outgoing and ready to socialize. Some have a more reserved personality and may even be nervous about interacting with others. Ben seemed to fit into what we today may call an introvert.
As the activity time ended and the group chose from a buffet of snacks, I continued to watch Ben. As the school-agers continued to gab and joke, they sat in groups of 4-6, eating and laughing. Ben sat at a desk, alone again. After a minute or so, a teacher noticed the quiet boy. She went to him and asked him how he was. She chatted with him a few minutes and asked him if he would be Trick or Treating. As they talked, Ben’s face slowly brightened, and he became more verbal. Just a short interaction made him more willing to socialize. The teacher left Ben and he scooted his chair to the outer edges of a group sitting near him. After a few minutes the same teacher that had led Bingo walked over to the group and encouraged them to widen their circle and allow Ben to join them. They did so willingly and even began asking Ben about his favorite candy.
The teachers I observed on this day had taken the time to recognize the different types of personalities they had in the school-age group. Rather than require each child to participate in all the activities, the freedom to move to the various stations at their leisure made the children feel more comfortable. By noticing who was dominating conversations and who was keeping to themselves, they could acknowledge those who needed more attention or just a gentle nudge. Whenever a group of people are gathered, no matter the age, there will be all types of personalities. Witnessing Ben at the Fall Festival reminded me how important it is for teachers to recognize how different children of a similar age group can be and help them feel secure enough to be involved in their classroom. While it’s easy to focus our attention on the outgoing children that always participate, it’s necessary to get to know each child and recognize those that need assistance in developing their social skills.