Wait! Time

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Key Takeaway: An increase in wait time, even as little as 3 seconds, has a profound impact on your child's ability to process thoughts and compose their thinking into a thoughtful response.

Keep reading to learn more about this SIMPLE strategy!

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It's not just for teachers, you can (and should) practice this at home! I am going to explain why it is so important, what it looks like, and how simple it is for you to start doing right away!

Wait time so important and often overlooked.

Why? We live in a busy society. We are always on the go. We have become used to instant gratification. If we want to know something, we quickly look it up on Google or ask Siri. When we watch television the frames change at lightning speed.

(Try this out the next time you watch a television show or commercial: count how many frame changes occur within a set time period such as one minute. You will notice, a highly regarded children's show changes frames a lot less frequently, if at all, where a commercial might change frames in a split second.)

What this show us is that we are constantly processing information at a rapid pace, but that might not be what is always best for our brains.

I am certainly guilty of living at hyper-speed. I sometimes get so busy and caught up with my day-to-day hustle and bustle that I forget to breathe. Like truly forget to take a normal, deep breath.

The importance of wait time:

When we ask our children to do something, or if we ask them a question, do we expect an immediate response? Or do we give them time to process the question and thoughtfully answer?

What we should do is count to ten or fifteen in our minds before expecting a response. This amount of time can feel like a century, but it's critical to letting children process and thoughtfully respond.

A quick digression: I remember when I was a student teacher how nervous I was at times. I would ask a question and I would expect an answer right away. Often the first hand that shot up was called on. I feared that if I stood there and waited that behavior would go awry, or that maybe the silence meant my question was a flop. Or that the students didn't know and I needed to answer my own question immediately. Like most newbie teachers, I learned the importance of wait time and how it sets students up for success.

When I wore my administrator's hat I went into so many classrooms and saw many teachers, even those who had been teaching for years, struggling with the same thing. By simply adjusting what we call in the education world "wait time," students are given time to process and provide a more thoughtful response, and they do!

On a side note, the other piece to this is the type of question being asked. You might not need a lot of time for a simple yes/no or true/false question, but a thought-provoking and open-ended question meant to yield discussion (like in my post "The Power of an Idea") will certainly need more thought and attention.

So what does this mean for us at home?

Simple, give our kids wait time!

Here is an example of me doing it wrong:

Tonight I was reading Thomas & Friends-All Aboard! First Look and Find with my toddlers and I asked, "What do you see?" Then I started pointing at and naming the animals on the first page. I said, "Do you see the blue train? Point to the train."

Neither said anything or pointed. That's when it dawned on me that I was not giving them any wait time and even worse, I was answering my own questions.

Here's an example of me doing it right:

It's not that the twins didn't hear me and they weren't focused. Quite the opposite. They were quiet and looking intently at the image.

So on the next page I readjusted my approach and again asked, "What do you see?" This time I was quiet and waited. Out of curiosity I counted in my head.

After five seconds, which can honestly feel like an eternity (especially in a classroom with 28 unpredictable children staring back at you), the twins started pointing at the picture and naming what they saw.

From there I validated their statements by repeating what they said in a complete sentence (sometimes adding colors or other details to help build their vocabulary), "Wow! You pointed to a green train!" And then I joined in the conversation too, adding some observations here and there, thinking out loud: "I see blue water. I wonder if the water is cold."

The next time you read together, do an activity together, or even just talk, consider wait time!

3 seconds makes all the difference!

I hope this makes your child HUNGRY for more books!

Happy waiting!

Comment and share your creations on social media! I'd love to know how it went and any modifications you might have made. We're all here to learn from each other, not reinvent the wheel!

Additional Resources:

Rowe, Mary Budd. “Wait-Time and Rewards as Instructional Variables: Their Influence on Language, Logic, and Fate Control.” ERIC, 31 Mar. 1972, eric.ed.gov/?id=ED061103.

Stahl, Robert J. "Using "Think-time" Behaviors to Promote Students' Information Processing, Learning, and On-task Participation: An Instructional Model." ERIC, Mar. 1994, eric.ed.gov/?id=ED370885.

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