"Believe me," I'd tell a parent at the beginning of a class session, "He's watching now, but once he sees how his classmates participate, he'll jump in later, I'm sure of it."
"Watch how active her eyes are right now. See how closely she's paying attention? I can tell she's learning, even if she's not playing with us."
"You know, I've been Ayden's teacher for a while now, and I've noticed that there are certain activities he prefers to watch rather than do. That's totally cool--he always has the opportunity to join us, but I really love how much he's supporting his classmates."
"I have to tell you what Sophie did in class! We've been doing this warm-up game for the last three weeks, and she actually did it with us today! It was awesome!"
These are things I've said time and time again to parents who poked their heads in the window of class, and saw what looked like their children not participating in activities. Or parents who saw them doing their own thing during observation days in the middle of the semester. Thing is, everyone's got their own learning style, and sometimes it takes a child a little longer to feel comfortable with an activity. They might have to see other kids do it before feeling like they can jump in themselves.
So, as a teacher, I'm completely cool with observer-learners: the kids who have to hang back for a while to watch instead of participating, so they can become comfortable with what's going on in class. As long as a student is active in their own way, and absorbing what we're doing, its totally fine.
As a parent, though, it's really flippin' hard! The Kid does a great job participating in school and group activities. He's super-social and crazy-verbal. Until it comes to participation in a story or song. Then, he just shuts down. He sits and sucks his thumb...
...and then comes home and sings me every word of every song, or tells me every word of the story, acting it out with the motions that his teacher taught the class in school that day.
So, I know he's learning. He's watching, actively engaged, absorbing everything, and reviewing it for himself at home. Just like I've told so many parents of my own students. And so I have to let go of the idea that he would just have so much fun if he would just participate. During library story time today, he almost cried when I suggested he get up for the stretching song. Oy.
I feel a little bit stuck in a place where I'm forcing The Kid to do something he doesn't feel comfortable doing, but I know he'll have fun doing. I want him to spread his wings and try new things...but on his own terms. It's hard!
I think back on my own school experience, where I looked around the room to see what other kids were doing before I jumped in. I waited to see if anyone else would raise their hands before I did, partially because I was afraid of being labeled "the smart girl" (which is a topic for another post), and partially because I just wanted to see what everyone else is doing. It's one reason that of all forms of theatre, improv scares me the most: you have to jump in without observing, or else nothing will get done. (Once I'm in an improv game, I love it. The very thought of it gives me the willies, though.)
So, I'm going to nurture my observer-absorber-learner, continue to ask him to sing us the songs Mrs. A teaches in school, and to show us the games the class played. And hope that someday, he feels comfortable enough to jump in and play--without pushing him!