Why Kids Are The Best Teachers

We’re so used to the idea of kids learning from us older folks but in reality, we’re all students. We learn from everything we experience regardless of the magnitude. But, we tend to assume those crucial moments as a child are where the most learning occurs. Maybe that’s true, but there’s one thing we cannot deny: kids teach us more than we could even fathom.

I’ve been working with toddlers for around two years now. I’ve always loved this age group and they’ve managed to create a lasting impression on me that I carry with me everywhere I go. Toddlers are so pure and innocent. Any conversation with them could end in joking and laughter. We were all there at one point in our lives but then this world started to take over with all its stressors and trauma. Most, if not all, of us have changed because of it. Don’t get me wrong though, going through all of that BS is important because it all happens for a reason and shapes up into stronger people.

Unpleasant experiences accompany everyday life and make being positive very difficult sometimes but we grow into stronger, more analytical, and more beautiful people because of it. Most toddlers, hopefully, haven’t undergone this type of trauma so their views of everything are much less brutal.

A couple of years ago, my parents started the process of getting a divorce. I was devastated but I had just started school at UCSB and had to keep it moving. I didn’t let myself truly acknowledge how I was feeling and just went through the motions. After a while, the toll of academics, lack of stability at home, and trying to find myself all started to mesh and I started spiraling downward. I decided to apply to be a teacher’s assistant at the children’s center by my school and immediately felt a change in my outlook. Out of work, I was constantly being put into stressful situations. But the second I got to work, I would forget about it all. Hanging out with those little kiddos and running around with them helped me forget about all the adult life garbage. I wasn’t worrying about homework, tests, my family or our next upcoming dance performance. I was so occupied with creating a safe environment for them that I took my work home with me and used it as therapy when I felt anxious or upset. I’d buy books for them and teach myself different games to teach them the next time I went in.

I stopped taking all of life’s stressors so seriously. I was living a life that was shitty at times but who isn’t? We’re all going through tough times and it is important to acknowledge our feelings but there comes a time where wallowing in your despair just doesn’t help things get better.

Working with kids teaches so much more than just forgetting about constant stressors. You can learn to be more patient, to appreciate different perspectives, and to communicate more clearly. When teaching kids, you have to be firm and clear. For that reason, this job has forced me to think before I speak. I have to be short, sweet, and to the point. Of course, for academics and conversations with my academic cohorts, detail and length are almost always necessary but what I’ve learned with the kids pushes me to think more. Every environment you’re in requires a different communicative approach.

Alongside a growing understanding of communication comes an understanding of different perspectives. The conversations I have with these kids are incredibly unique because they bring up things that most adults don’t think about; such minute details that we seem to miss when we get older and start thinking about the big picture. They’re brutally honest. Sometimes that can get intense because they don’t always  understand how their actions make others feel. One of my responsibilities at work is to help resolve conflicts that arise during playtime because kids tend to act on impulse. They’ll start screaming when they can’t play with the toy they want or push their classmates out of their play area when they feel they’re already playing with enough people. Regardless, their altercations with one another are genuine, wether in a kind way or not so kind way. They don’t hold back, which has its good and bad points. In society, we come across people all the time who adjust their personalities for the crowd they’re in. Kids don’t do that because they’re accepting of difference. As a matter of fact, they admire it. Judgement isn’t present and that’s something that I wish wouldn’t change with physical growth and integration into society.

Here at UCSB, we’re known to be a generally friendly campus and I can definitely attest to that. But every now and then, you’re bound to run into a pretty nasty encounter. Even the nastiest of encounters with these children end in laughs shared by both sides. All conflict is short-lived and I think that’s a lesson we can take as adults into our daily life. The little things aren’t worth dwelling on or creating unnecessary tension. Sometimes it’s much more beneficial to take everything into consideration and think rationally instead of letting emotion take control. When you think rationally, you can resolve any situation in a much more relaxed and appropriate way.

Patience is a more holistic approach to everything. In order to focus on your communication, you have to be patient with the process. If you want to resolve a conflict between individuals, it requires patience. Trying to understand a perspective takes patience. Explaining your views requires patience in seeing that the other side understands you. Patience is necessary regardless of your setting and although it could be extremely tough to truly have a grasp on it, it’s a very useful and practical ability to have.

I’ve learned most of these helpful skills at the children’s center but I’ve recently started working with an older age group through teaching dance. Although the age group is different, I’ve still been able to take valuable lessons out of it. Teaching or working with a generation younger than yours is the best way to ensure that you have a say in how they develop their outlooks on different issues. Did you have a teacher from elementary school that you still think about to this day? Did that teacher have an impact on you in any way? I’m sure they did. As children, regardless of age, we look to others for guidance. Because of this, we as adults have to understand that we’re influencing a generation even if we do not know it. The only way to truly be able to do this is by exposing yourself to this group and sharing what you can and the best that you can. We’re all influential and each side of the equation can contribute more than they even intend to.

All images via Giphy