In my blog post on teaching Sunbeams, I mentioned some advice that Shirly gave me at the outset:
“Get down on their level to talk to them.”
At the time, I quickly found her counsel to be wise indeed. The children generally responded favorably and engaged with me pretty positively (with a few notable exceptions that you’ll have to read about in the post). But it has only been recently that I think I understand why it worked well.
Talking down to people rarely ends well. I know I can’t stand it. There are few ways to go straight to my last nerve faster than to treat me like a three-year-old.
But isn’t that what I was doing with the Sunbeams? Not exactly. I wasn’t talking down to them, but talking to them on their level. As I mentioned in the blog post, I did so literally: I would physically crouch down, look them right in the eye as I spoke to them. Of course, I didn’t speak to them as I would to an adult, or even as I did later with my Valiants. But I got on their level and engaged with them in terms they could understand and appreciate, and in so doing showed them regard as individuals.
Therein lies the difference. One approach diminishes, while the other shows some respect, and maybe even a measure of dignity. Of course, I didn’t realize I was doing this at the time, but I’ll happily credit Shirly for her inspired counsel.