Teachers hold the future in their hands. It might not seem like it now, but the children in early education classrooms will one day be politicians, business people, artists, and scientists. A teachers job includes more than making sure these children can read and write; it also makes sure future leaders learn to treat others with respect. Sometimes that means relying on some creative resources for the early childhood classroom. One such resource is Ellen Booth Church’s new book Nurturing Next-Generation Innovators: Open-Ended Activities to Support Global Thinking.
This excellent preschool teacher resource book provides some creative teaching methods that build empathy and perspective into learning activities. In the introduction, Church explains how teaching perspective and perception to young children creates a foundation for a more global worldview later in life. Activities that incorporate these two skills teach students to recognize relationships and see the similarities between people as well as the differences. If they have an understanding of these concepts in early life, imagine what they can do with them once they grow up! But to begin teaching perspective and perception, it helps to know how Booth Church defines them.
Perception can be a difficult concept for adults as well as children. In the case of social relations, perception is what we see about someone or something. Seeing is the first step to understanding, but it should never be considered the last! When teaching perception to children, educators have to start by showing children how to communicate what they see before moving in to how they understand it. A simple example would be if a child notices that a classmate has a different snack; they see that Sally is not eating peanut butter, but they not know why. They may assume that Sally just doesn’t like peanut butter and think that is weird. This is perception. It is then the teacher’s responsibility to guide children to understand Sally’s reasoning by seeing her perspective: that maybe peanut butter makes her sick, so she doesn’t eat it.
In art, perspective refers to how we see something in regards to the rest of the picture. This is the same when we relate perspective to people; perspective explains how we see the world from one specific vantage point. A nine year old boy in Puerto Rico will have a different childhood and viewpoint than a five year old boy in the Bronx. Meanwhile, both these children share a more similar experience with each other than they do with a three year old girl in Iraq. Where we are and what our culture is effects what we see and understand. If children are taught to place themselves in another person’s shoes, those different perspectives don’t have to be limitations. They can instead be an avenue we use to empathize with others.
Here are a few activities from Nurturing Next-Generation Innovators that help teach perception and perspective.
My Sense of Seeing (Perception)
- A variety of interesting-looking objects of various sizes, shapes, and colors
- Something very pretty, like a peacock feather or live flower
- Drawing paper
- Watercolor paint
- A flashlight
What to Do:
- Start by taking the pretty object and letting the children look at it from different viewpoints like from the side, above, below, close up, and far away. Encourage them to say more than what the object is, describing shape, color, and texture.
- At circle time, make that special object and the many other objects you’ve collected available for examination. Ask the children to look at the objects like an artist. Ask them “How would you draw this object? What would you paint if you were an artist?” Provide art tools at the station for the children to draw and paint with.
- Once the children have examined the objects artistically, encourage them to look at them scientifically using the flashlight and magnifiers.
- Later, take the children on a nature walk and have them look around. Encourage them to see and describe things like leaves and bugs with the same intensity they looked at the objects in the classroom.
Communicating Without Words (Perception and Perspective)
- Images of signs
- Safety scissors
- Glue sticks
- Chart paper
- Markers and crayons
- Poster board or oak tag
- Examples of wordless books
What to Do:
- Start circle time by inviting the children with gestures instead of words. You could wave or point them to the area and then welcome them with a smile or handshake.
- Once all the children arrive, talk about what they thought you were meaning with your gestures. Ask them “How did you know what I was saying?” Help them understand the idea of “saying” something without speaking.
- Let the children practice this idea. Give them a few phrases and ask them how they could demonstrate them without saying it. Use familiar phrases like “I love you,” “Be quiet,” or “Good job”.
- Invite the children to “say” something with movement and have the other students try to guess what they mean.
- Demonstrate how pictures can communicate things using wordless books. Collect a wide variety of wordless books and place them where the children can find them. Have children take turns being the “reader” and describing what is happening in each image.
- Explain how we use signs to communicate without words as well. Bring in several pictures of signs and ask the children what they think they mean. Get several answers before revealing the signs’ meanings. Have the children make their own signs to communicate feelings and ideas.
Every Living Thing Needs Water (Perspective)
- Mini bottles of spring water
- Chart paper or a whiteboard
- A sand table or bin full of sand
- Digging toys
- Non-breakable water pitchers
- Prance juice concentrate
- Powdered milk
- Dried and fresh fruit
What to Do:
- Start with a song that features water, such as “Three Little Fishes”. Explain all the ways animals and people use water—i.e. for drinking, for swimming, for splashing, for baths. Write a list of things we do in water on the chart paper.
- Move into how we need water by asking the children if they have ever felt very thirsty. Apply the same idea to animals in plants; have the children ever seen a thirsty animal come inside and drink water? Do their parents water any plants?
- Demonstrate thirst by having the children do an exercise like jumping jacks or running in a circle. When the children get thirsty, ask them to think about how their throats feel. Then give them the spring water and ask how their throats feel different after they’ve had a drink.
- To demonstrate how water creates change, ask the children to dry and build a sand castle without water. Does it work? Why do they think the sand won’t keep its shape? Then add some water to the sand and have the children try again. Talk about the things they found they could do with wet sand but not dry.
- Use the orange juice concentrate and powdered milk to show how water is in many of the things we like to eat and drink. Start by comparing the dried and fresh fruits. Do the children think they are the same kind of fruit? What is different? Then pour out the juice concentrate into a pitcher and mix in water. Have the children watch and describe the change. Do the same with the powdered milk.
For more activities and lesson plans that teach perception and perspective, check out Nurturing Next Generation Innovators.