Welcome to Joyful Toddlers!

This space is about increasing our enjoyment of the young children in our lives through concrete action and by adjusting the lens through which we view them. My work comes out of LifeWays, which is inspired by Waldorf education. I welcome your comments, and questions about increasing your enjoyment of the children in YOUR life.


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Using Imagery

Children, even more than adults, think in images. When we speak to children using imagery, it speaks directly to their imaginations. Whether or not we are conscious of this, anyone who has spent time with young children uses imaginative imagery: when we want a child to come to the table, and they're underneath it pretending to be a cat, we will enter into the fantasy easily. “Come to your your chair, little kitty,” we'll call, and pet them when they climb up. As we get practice, we start introducing imaginative imagery of our own to help children move in the direction we want. “The train's leaving. Climb aboard! Chugga-chugga, chugga-chugga. Toot-toooot!” They are happy to go out the door and into the car if it has suddenly transformed into a train. But in addition to imaginative imagery, knowing that children think in images can change the way we talk to them, even in mundane matters. There are three ways that I do this all the time.

Building A New Experience
The first way that I use imagery is in helping children prepare for new or unusual experiences. When I worked at Boulder Waldorf Kindergarten, I used to take a small group of children each week to visit my grandmother at the Waldorf-inspired assisted-living home a few blocks away. I would usually take three 2-year-olds and and a 1-year-old, by myself. As you can imagine, things had to go smoothly! And they did. I prepared the way by talking about what was going to happen. Each day for four or five days before we went for the first time, I talked about it, telling it as if it were a story. “Not today, but someday soon, we'll go on a trip to visit my Grandma Kathy,” I would start, in my storytelling voice. “On that day, we'll be eating lunch just like today. After we finish our lunch, we'll scrape our bowls, and put our napkins away. Then we'll get our jackets on,” (I mime putting mine on) “and we'll put our shoes on, and when we're all ready, we'll go outside and climb into the blue wagon. Then away we'll go, to Grandma Kathy's house!” I'll pause, to let them absorb the image. “On the way there, I'll pull you in the wagon and I'll sing a song, and you will each sit straight and tall, listening to me sing the whole way there. When we get to Grandma Kathy's house, we'll say, 'Hello Grandma Kathy!' And I 'll give her a kiss on the cheek. Then we'll color pictures, and read a book, and when we're done playing, we'll get back in the wagon and come back here, to our very own classroom.”

When the day finally came, we spent the morning baking banana bread to bring to Grandma Kathy's house, and when it was finally lunchtime, the children could hardly contain their excitement. Today was the day! After lunch, each of the children knew exactly what to do. They were living the story! The visit went as smooth as could be, and visiting Grandma Kathy became one of the highlights of each week.

Right Before
The second way I use imagery is to create an image right before something is about to happen. If we're coming inside on a snowy day, I'll pause right outside the door. “When I open the door, we'll both go inside and you'll sit right down on the Changing Chair to take off your boots.” Or, at Grandma Kathy's, “When the wagon stops I'll lift you out one by one, and you'll all stay right next to the wagon so we can walk to the door together.” Using this type of very-specific, realistic imagery can be very reassuring to children, as they know exactly how things are going to be. Sometimes they will still get distracted and forget the image, but many more times than not, they will live into it. It works with children as young as almost-two, and works with my big five-year-olds.

Picturing Change
The third time I will use realistic imagery is when I'm frustrated with a child's behavior, and I will use it to create the possibility of a future where they act differently. I use a light touch light touch with this. After picking up a dropped spoon at the table for the umpteenth time, I'll muse out loud, as if to myself, “Some day I bet you'll keep your spoon in your bowl for the entire meal. Maybe even tomorrow!” And I'll sit back down. You never know. It probably won't be tomorrow, but it MIGHT be. I've set the scene.

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