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To answer the question, “Should young children raise their hands?” the best place to start is by taking a look at what happens when they do raise their hands.
Raising hands gets your attention…
How many times have you called on a preschooler who has their hand raised only to have the child stare at you for a full ten seconds and then say, “I can’t remember.” Chances are, the child didn’t really have something specific to say. What the child did want is to be called on or to get your attention. Young children start to learn quickly that raising a hand is a great way to get you to stop and give them your attention.
Raising hands takes you off topic…
How many times have you called on a child who has his or her hand raised only to have the child start talking about something that has nothing to do with the topic at hand. This happens to me all the time. I might be reading a book or having a discussion about caterpillars when one of my students will raise a hand and say, “I went to Disney World last year.” Now I have to acknowledge the child’s statement and then somehow get the child and the rest of my community back on topic.
Raising hands interrupts the ebb and flow of natural conversation…
While observing a group of four year old children with their teacher, I noticed that every time the teacher asked a question, the children would immediately call out the answer. Each time, the teacher would stop the conversation and say, “Raise your hand and I will call on you.” Immediately all the hands would pop up and she would choose one child to answer the question, which technically had already been answered just five seconds before. Ultimately, the conversation became more focused on “teaching children to raise hands” than it was on building a conversation about the topic the children were anxious to discuss.
Are your children ready?
It is perfectly normal to think that we should be teaching our students how to raise their hands before they speak – especially when sitting down together as a large group. However, if you stop and think about what actually does happen when young children raise their hands, the results are not really what we hope for.
So the real question to ask is, “Are your children ready?” I find that by the end of our Pre-K school year, my students are just now ready to remember their thought, keep their thoughts on topic, and wait until called on share that thought. They are just now developing the internal self-regulation they truly need to wait their turn and know that they will get a turn. Up and until this type of development starts to take shape, young children are still at a stage where they can certainly raise a hand but their ability to formulate or process a thought, hold on to that thought, remember that thought or keep that thought on topic is not fully developed yet.
Is it helping you and your students have a meaningful conversation?
There are times when I ask my young students to raise their hands so to introduce the idea of waiting for their turn or waiting to be called on but I usually do this through games we play or for specific types of questions I am asking.
Before I worry too much about requiring my students to raise their hands before they talk, I believe the most important thing I can do is facilitate an ebb and flow of natural conversations. Having real and meaningful community conversations is central to building their confidence, language skills, vocabulary, communication skills, and facilitating a genuine sense of community.
What is your goal?
The answer to today’s question, “Should young children raise their hands?” comes down to what you feel matters the most in the moment and whether or not raising hands is helping you get closer to or further from your goal. You just need to be clear on what that goal is. For me, having a natural ebb and flow of conversation and building healthy relationships is more important than raising hands during the early years. Oh, I have moments when I will ask the children to “hold on to that thought” until later or “raise your hands please.” Nothing we do in the early childhood classroom can be set in stone. It is a matter of using your best judgement in the moment.
However, my suggestion is to not make raising hands your top priority and instead introduce the process of raising hands when you see your students are truly developmentally ready and it is helping you promote natural and engaging conversations as well as a healthy community culture.