As college students, most of us will find ourselves working in some capacity. Some common job opportunities require working with children, whether that be in a daycare, with an after school program, tutoring, or even taking a summer job as a camp counselor.
While working with children seems like an easy job, the more you know about children's behavior beforehand, the better. Some aspects of children cannot be learned from sitting in a child development of child psychology classroom; experience is often the best teacher of this subject. As a camp counselor for four years and working at an after school program for just over a year, I have learned quite a bit about children. I obviously don't know even close to everything, but will share what I think everyone should know before working with kids.
1. Kids are a Mary Poppins bag of questions.
The questions never stop. Often, the questions are about the day's activities. It doesn't matter if the schedule varies each day, or if you carry out the same routine week after week, every day at least one kid will ask about the plan for the day. "Teacher, are we going outside today?" "Yes, kiddo, we're going outside. Seeing that it's been sunny for two weeks and all we've done is go outside, I suppose we can today as well." (I never actually say the last part, but without fail, it is always my first thought.) These questions also usually have a follow up- "Why?" Children always want an explanation for your decision. My advice would be to tell them it's a surprise. I learned this at summer camp; if you answer all of those questions with "Hm, it's a surprise," then they can't be disappointed if it doesn't happen, and they won't continue with the deluge of "Why?"
2. Many kids will not remember your name.
This has not been my experience at camp; when I was with a smaller group of kids at a time, they all remembered my name. Alternatively, in working with up to sixty kids at a time in the after school program, children remembering my name has proven to be quite a feat. Daily a child will walk up to me, tug the hem of my shirt, and call me Ms. Courtney. It's easy to get irritated about that, since I of course know all of their names and recognize all of their parents, but I have to keep in mind that I am just one of many adults in a kid's life. My advice for this: get used to being called "teacher." Kids call almost everyone "teacher," even if you're not technically a teacher. Tell them your name for the twentieth time, if it matters to you, but other than that just go with it.
3. Kids are "touchy."
Kids put their hands on everything and everyone. If they're not pulling out every toy on the shelf just to handle it and leave it on the floor for you to pick up, they're apt to wrestle their buddy on the carpet, pull on the dangling strings on said carpet, push or smack each other, or take each other's belongings. Kids also touch people to get their attention- constantly. A child will walk up to me, look me dead in the eye, say "teacher," "Ms. Courtney," or, if I'm lucky, "Ms. Jane," and then pull on my shirt or yank my arm before expressing their question or comment. Here, my advice is to watch them extra closely with they're corralled in close quarters to make sure that John isn't pulling Mary's hair, and that Bobby and Jack aren't playing MMA on the carpet. As for the kids touching you, try not to think about the fact that they have jelly from that PB&J snack left on their hands that haven't been properly washed all day, respond to them patiently, and throw the shirt in the laundry when you get home.
4. Kids say some ridiculous things, and it's often hilarious.
Here are a few of my favorites:
1. After a child telling me about a rude teacher- Me: "You're never rude, are you?"
First grade girl: "Don't talk to me."
2. Coworker to Pre-K girl learning rhyming words: "Do dog and frog rhyme?" Pre-K girl: "Yes!" Coworker: "What is another word that rhymes with dog?" Pre-K girl: "Um, a cat!"
3. Coworker to group of sixty kids: "You guys did a really good job listening." One first grade girl: "I didn't hear anything!"
4. 8-year-old camper: "Someone is going to need to get me down from here in the morning (looks down at me from her top bunk,) I'm guessing that would be you?"
My advice is to WRITE THESE DOWN! You and your coworkers will laugh about it the rest of the year. You'll want to remember a few of these one-liners; they tell so much about the child who said them.
5. Kids are just people.
Adults have a tendency to lump children into one group- just "kids," but that's a pretty narrow way to look at them. When people ask me, "Do you like kids?" my response is always, "Well, some of them." That's the truth. Do you like adults? Some of them. Do you like the people in your major? The people you work with? The people you graduated high school with? Some of them. Kids are the same way. They each have individual personalities that must be accounted for in each interaction with them. Some are sassy, some are funny, some are sweet, some are excellent rule followers, and some are make you want to pull your hair out. When you interact with a child with the perspective that he is just another person, not by looking at him as a "kid," that will help in every interaction. You have to appreciate children for the people they are.