Professional educators generally take classes on how to chose the developmentally appropriate material and environment for educating children. While that is great, and I am glad we have those classes for them, professional educators are not the only people who engage in the development of children. There are a lot of really great people who give freely of their time in any number of youth volunteer organizations who try to the best that they can without the benefit of those classes. I was one of them and this appendix is a narrative of my journey understanding this process of engaging with kids and some tips on how to take into account the developmental process while engaging with them.
I began coaching soccer when I was fourteen, helping the team on which my younger brother and sister played. Upon graduating high school I went to college, where I continued to play soccer. In 2003, I was presented with two employment opportunities. The first was an assistant coaching job for a local high school girls soccer team, working with one of my former teammates. The second position was a youth pastor in an at-severe-risk community. I took both jobs, and continued to go to school full time. This is when I realized that youth pastors and high school assistant coaches do not make a great deal of money. I took a third job as a graveyard shift security guard. That was a mistake. Engaging in the lives of youth was not. My experience in these two jobs, a youth pastor and a soccer coach, set me on a path that would take me to across the country, several times, to four different countries in total, and would involve me working with world class professional soccer players, interviewing the some of the very best coaches in the world, coming within one referee's blown call of winning a national championship. I have worked in a wide variety of levels of youth and young adult soccer from beginner programs for toddlers to collegiate and semi-professional teams.
There are a few things that I picked up along the way, slowly, sometimes painfully, and usually by going quite a bit backwards before I figured out how to again go forward. Some of these things may not be applicable to the world at large, the 17 Worst Card Games to Play in an Airport for example, but some of them may be. While my journey took me to a lot of fascinating places, both geographically and intellectually, it can not be overstated that all of it was from the practical stand point of trying to teach children to learn, and specifically to learn practicably applicable skills, usually in the arena of athletic competition, primarily soccer.
This was the dilemma that drove me into the books, into the realm of developmental psychology, and eventually to Antioch University: I was routinely asked to instruct learners who did not want to learn. This is a difficult thing to deal with, and drains and exhausts teachers the world over. I understand that part of what makes teachers brilliant, special fonts of light in a world of darkness is that they get up every single day to drag themselves in to try and inspire a love of whatever subject with which they are entrusted with passing down to the next generation to a group of kids who, short of intervention by Kevin Kline or Michelle Pfiffer, seem to want nothing so much as to be left uninspired. Teachers do it anyway. I did, too. I was fairly successful, as well, at least with some older ages. This is the part where I spent quite a bit of time working backwards until arriving at the idea that desiring personal improvement and engaging in abstract arenas that might not hold a great deal of personal attraction are habits that can be fostered more easily at younger ages, creating patterns which will make willingness to participate in education easier at a later date. To be idiomatic: can’t teach old dogs news tricks. Get younger dogs. Or, in the words of Fredrick Douglas, "It is easier to build strong children than it is to repair broken men."
This became one of the cornerstones to my instructional philosophy, along with the this quasi-quote I ran into from John Wooden, in one of the many inspirational quote laden documents handed out at soccer conventions, "I am not in the business of making basketball players, I am in the business of making young men, using the game of basketball."
These two perspectives changed my philosophy on both what my job was, and how to do it well. The point of almost any realm of early childhood education is not educating children. This may be getting ahead of the narrative a bit, but it is easier to start at the beginning.
There are two principle tools which I learned to use in the field of early childhood development: Environment Management and Curriculum Development. Environment Management is the conscious effort on the part of the instructor to control aspects of the arena within which learning is undertaken in an attempt to optimally facilitate that learning. Curriculum Development is the process by which the instructor orders, or sequences, and provides the information being learned. Teachers take classes on this sort of thing while going through the expensive schooling we require before perinally underpaying them, but for all those among us who try to make time in their lives to invest in the development of children in any number of different spheres without the benefit of such classes, these concepts might not be as familiar.
This narrative offers me a chance to share the knowledge and experience gained on the soccer field, in Sunday School, and sometimes in a classroom, focusing on the importance of these two concepts. During the early part of my learning experience, I often tried to fix any inefficiencies in my instruction by addressing only one side of this educational equation, that is, I would consider only the Environment, or only the Curriculum, when facing difficulty. I did not manage to successfully and consistently engage youth in the process of their own development until I realized that the material I wanted to present, or the content that made up my Curriculum, and the way it was communicated vocally, emotionally, and atmospherically, that is, the Environment in which the information was made available, were both grounded in a psychological and physiological understanding of my intended audience.