Our young students are ready and eager to learn and use the skills that have been recognized as crucial skills for the 21st Century, including problem solving, creativity, collaboration, as well as the development of their technology skills. I have found that if you have high expectations and give young children a chance to take on a challenge, they will step up to the task. Of course, they need adult support, review, repetition, and a learning environment where they feel comfortable taking risks.
While I continue to be amazed at the fantastic projects my second graders can tackle, I have also noticed that there are some basic skills, both academic and life, that cannot be ignored as we zoom through our days. They are skills that have been around for quite a while, and I don't think they will be going away soon. So, while we are teaching our young children the new 21st Century Skills, let's not forget to check on some other areas. Here are three:
1. Shoe-tying 101: Every year in second grade there's maybe two or so children who still need to learn to tie shoes. But some classes can have as many as eight or nine! As a second grade teacher, my policy is, "I don't tie second grade shoes," and I make sure they find a friend to help them. (I do it in a kind way.) I try to give deadlines (by Halloween, for example), encourage the children to support one another, and celebrate as they reach their goal (I have a certificate). It is very exciting to see the children's pride as they show me what they can do, but they really need to have this skill mastered before they come to second grade. Unless there is a child with special needs, they should be able to master this task before second grade, but they are going to need to practice at home, so I think I am going to make shoe tying part of my Back-to-School Night conversation with parents this year. It is a MUST that children become independent in terms of taking care of themselves and their basic needs, and part of that is being able to tie shoes. A funny story is that one time I told a little boy he needed to learn how to tie his shoes so when he was a daddy he could teach his children to tie their shoes. His reply, "No, I don't. I will get them velcro shoes." Smarty-pants!! (Click here for an interesting shoe tying discussion.)
2. Snacking vs. Grazing: We have snack time in our classroom. The children are encouraged to bring in healthy snacks, and we discuss what is healthy and what is not healthy. I am very impressed by many of the snacks I see the children eating, such as fruit, cut-up vegetables, cheese. Of course, not everyone chooses healthy snacks, and some children will bring in MANY snacks (a buffet perhaps). I have noticed over the last two years that the children have taken to bringing in snacks and storing them in their desks. They take them out at snack time (we eat while working) but then snack time seems to continue for the rest of the day. That turns a snack time into "grazing" - simply munching at will. Since I am working with the children all day, I feel that I must catch behaviors before they become bad habits. I have had to set limits with eating and explain why it is not good to eat snacks all day, even if they are available. I try to find ways to include the topic of healthy eating in our math, science, and social studies discussions. My favorite thing to do is to show the children (and adults if they are in the room) during a math lesson what a serving of ice cream is. (It is 1/2 cup if you are wondering.) It is a shocking demonstration!!
3. Clean Up Your Mess: Oh, yes. Whatever century it is, if you make a mess, you clean it up. If you see a mess, you can help clean it up. And taking ownership of your classroom is just as important as math, reading, and technology skills. This lesson does need to be taught to most of my second graders. But, those little ones just LOVE cleaning. Give them a baby wipe and they are good to go!!
If you really think about it, these basics skills are really tied into the important 21st Century Skills that are everywhere these days (It is responsibility, collaboration, problem solving.) We cannot skip over these essential learning moments, even if they are "old news."