Capturing Teachable Moments

by Judy Mullican

Imagine a day when you have a fantastic lesson planned. You’ve gathered all the materials you need and can’t wait for the children to arrive and enjoy all of the great activities. Just as the day begins, little Katie bursts into the room with a branch of colorful fall leaves. The children crowd around her oohing and aahing over the bright colors. What happens next? Well, you could quickly thank Katie, put the leaves in the science center, and move on with the lesson you planned. On the other hand, you could see this as a teachable moment.

All of the children are interested and excited about the leaves. Maybe you could switch gears and spend some time exploring ways plants change in the fall. Which lesson is most likely to be a success? I think most would agree that powerful learning can take place when teachers take advantage of teachable moments. Save that fantastic lesson you planned for a future date, and teach on the go:

  • Bring out some magnifiers so the children can examine the leaves more closely.
  • Go outside to find more leaves.
  • Compare leaves to find out how they are the same and different.
  • Listen to the children’s questions and comments and help them find the information they are curious about.
  • Glue the leaves on cardboard or paper in a collage. Over the coming days, the children will be able to observe them as they begin to dry up and curl.

Sometimes, a little planning can even help you create teachable moments! For example, if you are planning to start a unit on fairy tales, you can add things to the environment to spark the children’s interest before you begin. You might set out a castle playset, display attractive fairy tale books, and add some fun dress-up clothes, such as crowns and capes. Watch the children’s reactions. Are they excited? What stories are already familiar? Do they have questions about some of the materials? You can use their reactions to help you choose activities that will be the most successful.

Children have an innate desire to learn and grow. The more we can take advantage of their interests and curiosity, the more successful they will be in learning!

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