Tips for working with children, for people who don’t normally work with children…

Working with children can be so rewarding. If you have a fairly monotonous job, or feel like you’ve lost your spark, going into a school to do outreach can really be inspiring. It’s also nice to see how far you’ve come since being in their shoes, and you never know, your words may have the power to inspire them to do something amazing with their lives. However, it can be quite daunting to go and face a class of kids, no matter how old they are – especially if you don’t have children yourself, or can’t remember how schools operate. I’d love to share some of my ideas with you, some of these things I’ve had to learn the hard way! Bear in mind every school is different; depending on the school, you’ll get children from different backgrounds, different areas and who have different abilities. Therefore, there are no hard and fast rules, but hopefully you’ll be able to use some of these tips next time you work with children.

Primary Schools

  1. Know your audience. If you’re visiting a school in a fairly deprived area, it might not be the best idea to keep mentioning high level universities and multi-million dollar companies because they won’t be able to relate you. Be aware of the environment they have been raised in. If you start off with something they can relate to, like the local football team or celebrities they like, then gradually link it to further education and career paths, there’s a chance that they’ll be much more receptive.
  2. You don’t have to be a comedian by any means, but a bit of harmless humour here and there might get them to relax and be more comfortable.
  3. Under no circumstances should you be left along with a child. This can put you in an awkward situation and the consequences can be very serious
  4. Try not to patronise them. Unless you’re an experienced teacher, it’s almost impossible to tell a child’s ability just by looking at them. If you patronise an intelligent child, they’re much less likely to take you seriously.
  5. If you’re running a workshop that involves them getting into groups, don’t be surprised if there’s conflict. They probably won’t be used to team working situations, so it’s not going to be easy for them.
  6. Ask them lots of questions. You’ll find that more hands go up than you can count – they can be so eager to share their thoughts and both parties will have a much better time if you treat it as a two way conversation, than a one way lecture.

Secondary Schools

  1. Don’t try and be ‘cool’. Children can be quite judgmental at this age, and if you try and pretend you’re one of them, they’ll see straight through you in about 3 seconds.
  2. Along the same lines, be honest. The kids will be more likely to accept you if you show them your failings, and show that it wasn’t an easy path to get to where you are now.
  3. Show them respect, and try not to treat them like children.
  4. Using technical vocabulary is fine, as long as you explain yourself. They may even appreciate that you’re not ‘dumbing it down’ for them.

Feature image by MIKI Yoshihito, Flickr.

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