Key Ingredient: Interactions


 Have you ever considered the active ingredients in toothpaste? I have discovered that there is only one active ingredient in toothpaste—fluoride. Without the fluoride, there is no benefit to toothpaste. The inactive ingredients have no power to protect teeth. Let’s consider this analogy to education with the active ingredient as developmental relationships. Authors and researchers, Junlei Li and Dana Winters, state, “The many other ingredients in our educational systems, including curriculua, standards, facilities and professional credentials are inactive ingredients. They can be helpful if they enhance the quality of human interactions between children and those adults directly caring for and teaching the children.”  In their article, Simple, Everyday Interactions as the Active Ingredient of Early Childhood Educators, that is included in the January/February edition of Exchange magazine, Li and Winters, explain that “the underlying dynamics of human interactions are universal.” They further state that there are four processes that embody interactions with suggestions for achieving. I have included an example of an every-day exchange.

  • Connection: Be present and in tune with children. For example, when a child has a treasure to show you, pause and support their “awe” in the moment.

  • Reciprocity: Focus on balanced “serve and return” exchanges between children.  Engage in a meaningful conversation with the child who has shared a treasure with you.

  • Opportunities to grow: Children should be encouraged to “stretch beyond comfort zones of their current competence and confidence.”  Perhaps the child’s treasure is a type of acorn he/she has found outdoors. Encourage the child to find out more about the acorn and how he/she can share his/her discovery with peers.

  • Inclusion: Ensure that all children are being invited and encouraged into the community of learners.  You notice a child watching your exchange with the “treasure finder.”  Suggest that the two of them try to find more treasures together.

Li and Winters also emphasize the importance of focusing on “simple interactions.”  Through my moments in many early childhood centers, I notice many of these simple interactions that can make or break a child’s entire day. In their hurry, educators often don’t realize how important these small interactions mean to children. For more information on simple interactions, including a free tool that can be downloaded, visit

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Training Spotlight

1st-3rd grade educators worked together to learn engaging ways to develop number sense. Students will develop fact fluency while playing games that use their number sense strategies. By learning their facts in this way, students are not merely memorizing, but rather learning to work with numbers flexibly.  “Low achievers are often low achievers not because they know less but because they don’t use numbers flexibly – they have been set on the wrong path, often from an early age, of trying to memorize methods instead of interacting with numbers flexibly.” Jo Boaler,  Stanford University, 2009


April 8, 2019

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Pre-K 4 SA Professional Learning
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