In her article "Helping Young Children through Daily Transitions," which forms the basis for the newest Exchange Out of the Box Training Kit by the same name, Tara Katz offers a number of ideas for transitions in the preschool classroom including this one:
"Children expect us to tell them what comes next and what we expect of them. The difference between, "You may set the table for me" and "Can you set the table?" is day and night. As adults we sometimes think we nurture children to be strong independent thinkers when we ask them if they want to wear their coats or what they want for dinner. Such questions are only appropriate when the choice is real. What children need is for the adults in their lives to let them know what is expected of them in a consistent, loving, manner. Daily rhythms and routines and clear language will help them achieve that goal. In a society that values individuality, the idea of guiding children in an authoritative manner, instead of as their friend, can feel uncomfortable."
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"Can you set the table for me" isn't the best language, It implies that the child is doing a favor for the adult, when the child will be, in reality, setting the table for the group, for him- or her-self.
The careful use of language is something I expect to see in all of Exchange...so it surprised me to see this. (Not a big thing. But your stuff is usually topflight.)
I have written extensively on choosing words for teaching. I learned much of what I know from Peter H. Johnston's book,
Choice Words. Which I think you should be recommending to your readers.
And I wish you'd carry my new book, Seeing Young Children with New Eyes: What We've Learned from Reggio Emilia about Children and Ourselves. Published by Lulu.com as both an e-book (12.99) and a paperback (34.99)
I remember clearly saying to my preteen son "Can you take out the trash?" Luckily for him I was in a great mood and also realized I had phrased it incorrectly when he responded, " I can, but I really don't want to!!!" We both laughed and then he took it out! You are right--if it is a choice then give them a choice--if it is not, then make it a directive!