Juggling for Nannies
Have you tried juggling? First you start with one ball, getting used to the weight, finding a balance between left and right. Then you add a second ball, tossing each across the other, establishing a rhythm. Finally the third ball enters the action, and spatial awareness becomes crucial. Professional jugglers who practice these skills amaze us. How do they keep all those balls moving?
You, too, can be an world-beating juggler. Master the balance, rhythm and spatial awareness required by your job, and children who once moved like an apple, a feather and a bowling ball will all fall into line. A baby and a two-year old – a cinch! Bigger ones that all go in different directions – a snap! You’ve found the rhythm, you’ve developed a routine. You’ve become the expert.
The secret is that children love a multi-sensory environment: many different ways of learning, many different skills tapped. They’ll milk a theme that takes them to their own, new discoveries. Such an approach allows children to connect many phenomena in their own way, to form their own understanding by using all their senses. This is the heart of the “Whole Learning” or “Whole Language” approach to learning, which essentially means giving children a theme to build on.
Haven’t got a theme? Just look in a children’s book.
Ball One: The Activities
Pick up your charge’s favorite book. Say it’s Goodnight, Moon. What can you bring to the author’s quiet theme of bedtime and sleepy comfort that children themselves can participate in – besides listening to or reading the story?
Your basic options for expanding on the theme are:
- songs and finger plays (did you, as a child, sing “I See the Moon and the Moon Sees Me”?)
- large motor activities (“Let’s all hide on the horizon, and let’s all rise up really, really slowly, like the moon, as we move across the room, and then let’s all sink slowly into the horizon again.”)
- dramatic play (“Now you be the moon, and I’ll be you.”)
- art (“We can draw the moon as easily as the sun.”)
- pre-academic skills (math, science, writing, social studies, etc: (How many moons are there? How many moons on Mars? Can you spell “moon” – it has two eyes to look at you. Who is awake when we are asleep?)
Ball Two: The Books
Whether you use a local library or have (or create) one in your household, quality literature is essential. If you yourself have read books with strong concepts (love, heroism, loyalty, compassion), interesting characters (Peter Rabbit, the Lorax, the Hardy Boys), and engaging illustrations (Alice in Wonderland, Where the Night Things Are, The Secret Garden), you have the idea. And good new books come out all the time.
Books for younger children rely on pictures to tell their story. Vocabulary is simple and clear, sentences are short but appealing. Many authors use rhyme as well, bringing young children into the story that way. These books mine varied concepts with emotional connections to the child’s world and to his rich imagination.
Beginning readers’ books usually balance illustration with written content. They begin to introduce abstract concepts. Story content still relies heavily on connecting at the child’s emotional level, but it brings in new, mind-expanding ideas as well.
Older children, ready for the next stage, may choose and read books for themselves. They like to explore story topics and concepts by engaging adults in (literary!) discussion. And not only will they initiate activities themselves to expand a concept they’ve encountered, they will take pride in reading to younger siblings and find comfort in activities that are less challenging but still meaningful.
Ball Three: The Strategy
To help all children in your household participate, choose a book that has something for everyone: strong illustrations, exciting characters, and an interesting plot. Luckily, older children are often fine with simpler books, and the very young child wants to be “where the action is.” Now, before you toss all the balls into the air, I’d like to suggest a few things.
Read the book first yourself. You’ll get ideas as you read, and sharing the book then with the children will be just that, sharing, rather than laying on them something about which you, yourself, really know nothing. It is the sharing involved in reading together that makes early reading so appealing to children.
Prepare two or three activities in advance, gathering the supplies and ingredients for action. Take time following the activities to evaluate the process. Look at both positive and negative feedback. Keep a file to refer to in the future. Include the book’s title, activities chosen, materials required, children’s ages, and your evaluation. Repeating a story can be thrilling again, with a new set of activities or with a different group of children.