Children attending a nursery school in Kenya. We expect many similarities in Tanzania.
At the beginning of my teaching career, I chose to be a teacher of middle schoolers, and I have always enjoyed working with adolescents with their goofy sense of humor. So it was a surprise to be asked that one of my focuses while in Tanzania be a nursery school program—we would call it preschool. I realized that I could coax thirty thirteen year-olds to write a five paragraph essay, but I was not sure that I could get ten four year-olds to sit on a rug and listen to a story.
The challenge of doing something new set me on a quest that involved reading books on early childhood education and observing at some preschools. During one visit to a preschool, I sat down at a little table where two preschoolers were playing with plastic food. “I am hungry. Can I have something to eat?” I declared. The two miniature chefs gleefully set before me a pretend slice of pizza on a blue plastic plate. “Yum, yum,” I told them. Suddenly, the two children were multiplied by four and each child presented me with food—pea pods and toast, mashed potatoes and cherry pie, all rendered in bright plastic colors. Two noisy boys swooped in and deposited a toy fire engine on the table for my inspection. A little girl with big brown eyes stood on my right and turned the pages of a story book for me to see and another little one showed me a toy pot and cautioned me that it was hot. They clearly liked their new adult play mate, and in return, I clearly liked being surrounded by all the energy and playfulness of these children.
I have always thought that I would rather teach The Call of the Wild instead of the Grouchy Lady Bug, but that day at the preschool makes me wonder if I would have enjoyed early childhood education, as well. A new pedagogy of educating little ones involves emergent curriculum which entails a very observant and creative teacher noticing what the children are interested in and developing curriculum around their interests instead of having lessons determined beforehand by the teacher. I am fascinated by the skill and trust in the process that it takes to approach education in this way.
Talking with a friend, I expressed feeling some anxiety at being asked to do something in Tanzania that was not my strength. She replied, “I think you already know what you need to know.” I still keep reading books because I am interested, but I think—I hope–that she is right. We leave in four weeks. I look forward to this adventure and the challenge to work in an area new to me.