Make it Complex, They Can Handle It

When people tell me that teaching young children must be “easy” because you don’t need to know “hard” things like calculus I don’t launch into a whole discussion of social emotional development and differentiated learning. I keep it more simple then that.

When you teach young children you have to know a subject SO WELL that you can take difficult concepts and boil it down to the essential piece of information and then convey that in an age appropriate way. What is “easy” is thinking that to teach young children you just “dumb down” information or give them just the “easy” stuff.

Also, young children are capable of incredibly complex thinking and handling difficult information if it is presented in an age appropriate way. It is hardest on the adult, since we have to figure out how to say it in the “right” way.

This came into sharp relief for me as I was getting ready for the week before Thanksgiving. How do I avoid staying with a very comfortable narrative of American Indians and early settlers?

I would never pretend that the way I do things is the “only” way or even the “right” way. I am still fumbling my way through all of this. I just wanted to share it because it is A way.

We’d been exploring “Olden Days” through the stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder in the “My First Little House” series. They were fascinated and what really caught them was all of the different types of houses that Laura had lived in. We’d explored a dugout, log cabin and sod house and they were still talking about them.

So, that was my hook. All of the different types of houses and how they used materials that were available and fit the needs of the people living in them. That weekend I gathered my supplies (the National Museum of the American Indian is a great resource!).

When I sat down for circle we looked again at the houses that Laura lived in. Then, I dove right in. I talked about how stories like Laura’s often talk about the land as being “unsettled” or “uninhabited” and say that no one lived there. I told them that was wrong, that there were a lot of people living there already. I showed them the map I had bought that had all of the names of the American Indian groups written on it.

I then went on to share that just like Laura, they lived in different types of houses depending on where they lived and what they needed. We might think of a Tipi first, but that isn’t all there is!

Each child got a picture of a different type of house. We looked at it, saw what type of material it was made of it and decided what type of environment it would work well for. Then, we put it up around the map in the right area.

The next day, I brought a whole box of different materials to circle and each child could create their own house. We talked about all of the different styles that we’d seen and why they’d been built that way (for the climate, because of materials available). I asked them to design their OWN house and think about those same things. We weren’t recreating an American Indian house, or even Laura’s, but we were using the lessons we’d gotten from how they had built.

The care they took in their building. The way they referenced the map and brought their families in to see the finished product tells me that this was not a wasted effort. It will be interesting to see where it goes from here.

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