|A Place for Everyone: Nurturing Each Child's Niche|
"Thomas can climb
high, Prudy can dance, Robbie can read, and I am good at painting."
One of the core principles of nature is that diversity brings strength. The strength of our families, communities, and societies comes from our diverse array of interests, skills, and strengths.
Genetics and experience work together in ways that give us each a set of individual preferences and personalities. Some children are timid, some bold. Some like to observe, some are more active. Some children like dinosaurs, some like dolls. Some children can hear something once and remember it while others need many repetitions. To some, music is soothing during quiet time, to others it is distracting. Each child has a unique combination of emotional, behavioral, cognitive, and social skills and capacities.
While we often recognize the presence of individual differences in children, it's important to appreciate the value of them. We can teach with individual learning styles in mind and measure and acknowledge a child's progress in all domains.
Educators of young children are challenged by the pressure to focus on academic achievement that filters down into the early childhood classroom. More than any other part of the education system, the early childhood classroom is an ideal setting to help identify and nurture a child's developing skills in all domains.
Supporting Special Skills
A major task of the early childhood teacher is to help a child find and develop his own area of solid competence a niche. This niche is different for each child. For some children this will be their special skill with clay; for others it will be how fast they can run. When a teacher helps the child feel special and capable in any area, this will serve as a safe home base from which the child can continue learning in all areas.
In some cases, it's easy to identify a child's special skills. Children prefer to do those things that they can most easily master and in which they can most readily demonstrate competence. When you recognize a child mastering something in his niche, reward the child with praise and attention. This praise will have two important effects. First, it will reinforce the child and make him feel valued. Second, by openly acknowledging each child's unique strengths, you will help all the children in the classroom begin to appreciate diversity in interests and skill.
If a child can learn to appreciate the contributions of
others and learn to recognize that our differences should be treasured
and not feared, he will have an easier time discovering his own place,
passion, and value.
This article originally appeared in Early Childhood Today magazine.
Dr. Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D., is an internationally recognized authority on brain development and children in crisis. Dr. Perry leads the ChildTrauma Academy, a pioneering center providing service, research and training in the area of child maltreatment (www.ChildTrauma.org). In addition he is the Medical Director for Provincial Programs in Children's Mental Health for Alberta, Canada. Dr. Perry served as consultant on many high-profile incidents involving traumatized children, including the Columbine High School shootings in Littleton, Colorado; the Oklahoma City Bombing; and the Branch Davidian siege. His clinical research and practice focuses on traumatized children-examining the long-term effects of trauma in children, adolescents and adults. Dr. Perry's work has been instrumental in describing how traumatic events in childhood change the biology of the brain. The author of more than 200 journal articles, book chapters, and scientific proceedings and is the recipient of a variety of professional awards.