Professor highlights importance of listening to children

March 13, 2014

Dawn Rouse pictured on Graff Main Hall auditorium stage speaking to crowd.

Dawn Rouse, UW-L assistant professor of Early Childhood Education.

Dawn Rouse, UW-L assistant professor of Early Childhood Education, has learned a lot from infants and young children. For one, she has learned that adult rules don’t always match children’s internal rhythms regarding time, space and play.

She was one of six people from the UW-L campus and La Crosse community who shared a story about “turning points” in society or their personal lives during a TEDx event on campus in November. These stories will be shared on UW-L’s homepage over the next month.

Many are familiar with TED Talks, an award-winning video site that is a branch of the TED non-profit organization. TEDx events are independently coordinated to give communities, organizations and individuals the opportunity to stimulate dialogue through TED-like experiences at the local level.

When Rouse began teaching four year olds early in her career, she created rules like keeping hands to oneself, no toys from home, no guns or violent play. But the children regularly piled up playfully on each other like a pack of wolf pups. One child smuggled a toy tiger from home in his underwear. The final epiphany that her rules didn’t make sense was when she witnessed a group of boys engaged in building guns in a rich and collaborative way. When she walked up to the boys, they froze and told her they were building snow blowers — not guns — out of the toy blocks to avoid getting in trouble for engaging in the forbidden play.

The boy’s lies in order to sustain their play led Rouse to wonder about the validity of her rules. The boys were not asking her to ban guns, but to give them adult help in mediating their understanding of the world. She needed to develop rules that the children needed, not rules that were convenient for her. These children taught her about trust and respect for the group, she says.

“My wolf packs demanded that I make decisions that weren’t just convenient for me, or aligned with my adult sense of the world. They each demanded, in their own way, complete commitment to the needs of the individuals within the group,” she says.

Watch the video “Lessons from my Wolf Pack” with Dawn Rouse through TEDxUWLaCrosse