I'm Not An Octopus! (or am I?)
By Eleanor Reynolds

I spilled my juice.
I can’t find my socks.
I need to go potty.
Will you tie my shoe?
I want my bottle.
Watch me jump.
My nose is running.

Kelly and Tyrone are fighting!

There are times when it seems as if every child in the room is demanding something different, all at once. When this happens, I’ve been know to declare, "Hey, guys, I’m not an octopus!" Coincidentally, there are eight kids in my group and an octopus has eight arms. When I say I’m not an octopus my kids laugh and know it’s a joke. Sometimes, it’s not so funny.

The element of Problem Solving that requires us to be an octopus is supervision. Supervision isn’t one of those fun topics; the mention of supervision makes eyes to go blank and glaze over. Yet affective supervision is what holds any program together. Without good supervision, things fall apart and you have chaos.

What Exactly Is Supervision and What Are Its Components?

The definition of supervision is to "oversee," and this fits the description of what you, as a problem-solving teacher, do with a group of children. Your role is to watch rather than direct, respond rather than restrict, help rather than intrude. You are there to facilitate, that is, to make it easy for kids to be free, safe, and responsible.

There are a number of factors that contribute to your ability to supervise effectively. Most important is the structure of your program and the way it is organized. Before you can do a good job, you need a foundation that is both strong and flexible. The best system I know is based on having a coordinator, one person who oversees and organizes several groups. In a smaller center, she may oversee the entire program.

Along with structure there is your program’s environment. Every room or area should be arranged to maximize safety, offer challenge, allows kids to work independently, and assure that teachers can see all the children at one.

Elements of Good Supervision

The Coordinator: This system is especially effective with toddlers. Pretend you have 21 toddlers, age one to three and want a ratio of 1:5. Mix the ages together and make one teacher the coordinator (the job can rotate), who diapers, makes bottles, arranges areas for meals and naps, and helps solve problems. The other three teachers supervise and interact with the kids; this is their only role. Your center can work out its own logistics according to need, but once this system is in place, the teachers will love it. 

The Environment: Your program’s environment should always provide for the greatest number of children’s choices and independence. Evaluate your areas for safe supervision and make necessary changes. Your environment should also have built-in risks. Children need physical and mental challenges in order to stretch and grow. Make your environment vibrant!

Stay There: The art of supervising demands that you remain with your kids at all times, both physically and mentally. Never leave your group (that’s where the coordinator can help) and stay alert and focused at all time. Avoid personal conversations with parents and other teachers while you’re supervising. Staying there also includes:

Positioning. Stand, kneel, squat or sit where you can see all children at all times. Pay special attention to areas where there are messy art materials or small parts of puzzles and other toys.

Circulating. Move around the area, making eye contact with kids, reinforcing desirable behavior and facilitating any problems that arise. Think of yourself as a host at a party, greeting your guests.

Putting Things Away: Teach even the youngest children how to put away their toys as they finish playing with them. Start with infants by showing them and making it a game. Help toddlers go through the motions until they can do it themselves.

Routines and Instructions: Keep routines and transitions consistent and smooth. If you’re having problems, look for more effective systems. Change is stressful to young children; make it as simple, comfortable, and predictable as possible.

Eleanor Reynolds is the editor of The Best of the Problem-Solver: Articles for Parents and Teachers and the author of Guiding Young Children: A Problem-Solving Approach. She can be reached by email at problem@blarg.com.