teaching thoughts

Wait Time and the Young Child

I recently was tutoring a kindergarten child and noticed his need for wait time. When I spoke to his parents about this, I realized that many adults probably do not even know what this means, never mind be able to recognize it in their own child.

Wait time, or thinking time, in education is the time between a question posed and the next oral response (either by the teacher or another student). Often times when we ask children, or adults for that matter, a question we expect a quick response. The problem with this is, not everyone can do this is quick time.

We often think about providing children who are learning a second language with wait time because the child is hearing the question/information in one language, then they have to translate it to understand… then think of an answer, and then translate that answer into the language we asked the question. People can see the need for this wait time easily, even if it is still hard to provide that time. But, they are not the only children who have to change the processing of information.

Back to the child who I was tutoring… if you looked at him, you might think he was “zoning out” or not paying attention. But, what I noticed is that he was looking… he was looking at something in his mind’s eye. Yes, he was looking for the answer. This child is very visual and needed to see the question and answer in his mind before he was able to answer. If I did not provide him wait time, he would get frustrated because he felt he couldn’t answer the question, when he could… if I gave him the time he needed.

Children often need 3-5 seconds of wait time, but some need a bit more. Sadly often times adults provide less than 2 seconds of wait time before they start talking or often just fill in the answer.

We as adults need to get better at providing ample wait time for children. They need time to process information. We also need to teach children to ask for wait time. I teach my students, including the child I’m tutoring, to put up one finger as we as adults do when asking for 1 minute from a child who wants to speak. This is a cueing that most children have seen before in school. Providing them a non-verbal cue helps because they aren’t disturbing their own wait time. This allows the child to advocate for him/herself. Then the next key piece is for the adults to respect and accept this need. Provide the time needed and praise the child for seeing this need.

I encourage you to time yourself. Are you giving your child ample time to think and respond? Are you quick to repeat the question, provide more details or even fill in the answer? Or are you seeing the need to allow your child to think. Time yourself… 3-5 seconds is LONG time to wait, but it is so worth it in the confidence and learning of that child!

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