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Show and Tell

Updated: Mar 5, 2023

During my years as an elementary classroom teacher, ‘Show and Tell’ was a daily standard. Sadly, as the focus on improving test scores increased, many schools eliminated activities they deemed to be of no significant academic value with Show and Tell making the list. At the beginning of the school year, Show and Tell consisted of individuals standing in front of the class verbally sharing something of personal interest. However, it didn’t take long for students to realize that their classmates were far more attentive when there was something to show along with the tell. Having a “visual” upped the level of audience focus considerably. Often the object of interest was left on display throughout the week for classmates to enjoy. Some items (i.e., rock collection, yo-yo, Etch-a-Sketch...) allowed students to learn something new or practice new skills. The various objects that visited our classroom throughout the year also fueled many stimulating discussions on the playground and at lunch.

Show and Tell is a simple, effective way to teach life skills through active student engagement. It provides the presenter an opportunity to develop stronger speaking skills and to learn how to engage an audience. For the presenter, Show and Tell is an exercise in public speaking. For the listener, Show and Tell provides time (daily) to hone listening /questioning skills and practice being a good audience member. When approaching Show and Tell with a level of importance equal to other content areas, the collective benefits can make the experience extremely worthwhile.

So, what does Show and Tell have to do with child-rearing? Simply stated, the same benefits gained from the former can be applied to the latter. One of the underlying themes reflected in questions submitted to our team of parent coaches is the issue of children not listening and not following through on assigned tasks. Painful as it may be for some parents to hear, many children do not listen because they are not held accountable for listening. To be a good listener, one must actively engage in listening. Likewise, children may not follow directions properly because they have not been adequately shown how a task is to be done and allowed sufficient time to practice.

Since “telling” does not ensure listening (or understanding), when children perform tasks incorrectly, parents tend to spout mantras like, “I told you……” or “How many times do I have to tell you?” or “That’s not the way I told you to do it.” I regularly hear adults in stores, restaurants, parks, etc., speaking to children in this fashion. Over time, this type of rhetoric can cause children to tune out, shut down, even become defiant. If a child defies a logical parent directive, one that is clearly understood by the child or involves a task for which the child has previously demonstrated competence, then consequences are in order. Likewise, when directing a child to do a particular task that must be done a certain way, showing needs to follow telling (ex: “I need you to ____________(tell). Let me show you how and then you can practice.

This message may sound simple but in the busyness of life, time and patience are often in short supply. When it comes to raising children, recognizing that time spent on showing, followed by time for children to practice and make mistakes, leads to increased competence, confidence, and improved behavior. Children are far more likely to follow through when they feel confident in their ability to manage a task. Parent Show and Tell is a win-win for both parents and children.

© Sharon Knapp Lamberth, February 2022


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