From the mouths of baby Germans

ThumbkinKnow what?  Know what?

Little kids have limited control over their impulses, and no understanding of timing or relevance.  They might tell you strange things at strange times during the English lesson, and you have to do your best to not overreact. Let them know that you heard them, respond a little bit, but don’t let it derail your song, story, game, or lesson plan.  This is yet another reason for you as an ESL teacher to learn the native language of the children you’re teaching: for example, the child could either be asking to use the bathroom, or he could be recounting the time his sister peed on the sofa.

Use the comment section below to share how you would respond to the situation in the picture.

If it gets serious

Most random assertions are just that: random.  But you should still pay attention and decide if you need to take further steps after the lesson.  If a kid is reporting abuse or a dangerous situation at home, by all means talk to someone about it.  However, it’s important to know the difference between reporting a concern and participating in gossip.

Be vigilant and listen for signs of distress, but don’t take it upon yourself to play the social worker or child psychologist.  You’re an ESL teacher and your job is to present and practice the target language with the children.  The caregivers at the day care and the parents of the children have already heard the weird stuff their kids come up with.  They’re really not going to be interested in hearing you recount what you think is earth-shattering news, nor will they be happy about your willingness to broadcast Sebastian’s* hatred of his new daddy.  Report your concerns discreetly to the daycare director or main caregiver, but don’t dive into the situation or ask for updates.

Fielding awkward disruptions

I responded to the child in the cartoon above by asking silly questions after the Thumbkin song was over (It was a group, but I didn’t have time to draw all eight children, okay?  Pretend there are more children in the drawing for the sake of the story.).  I continued to speak English even though the child told me about his new daddy in German.  I used words and phrases in English that were close enough to the German words so the little kid could still understand: “Is your new daddy stinky?”  “Is he a fish?”  “Is daddy too loud?”  The child started to giggle and answered no, but as my questions got sillier, he started to answer yes.  So the new daddy is a green shoe who eats all the pizza, and that’s why Sebastian doesn’t like him.  In the next lesson, I listened for news of the daddy without prompting, but the child said nothing, so I let it go.  (I met the new daddy weeks later, and I didn’t like him either.  He had coffee breath and bad posture, but that’s not a crime.)

Sometimes the weirdness is golden

You’ll hear some unbelievable stuff come from even the smallest of children.  Near the end of one lesson long ago, a group of five-year-olds began debating the existence of God.  They were coloring their worksheets, chattering quietly to each other in German, and I was walking around quizzing them individually on vocabulary.  One child at the end of the table started talking about “our beloved Jesus Christ” and repeated things she had heard adults say at their church.  Another child responded by saying that God doesn’t exist and that her mom said it was all just a trick.  Another kid chimed in and said that her parents took her to church because then they could go eat with grandma.  The first child insisted that she went to God’s house and played in God’s yard, so he’s real, for sure.  There was a short silence and then a kid who was coloring his whole worksheet black said, “Mine is the God of war.”

They were five years old!  I decided to talk to that last kid’s mother after the lesson.  She sighed and said that he was just an odd kid and that I shouldn’t be alarmed.  I later discovered that he was really smart.  He told me that he wants to use words to affect change because it’s a waste of everybody’s time to throw tantrums.

Do you have a story to share?  Fill up the comment box with odd outbursts that caught you off guard in the lesson, and how you handled it.

*The name Sebastian is just a generic replacement.  I’m not actually talking about you, Sebastian.


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