The POWER of the PAUSE…

Kath Courter, Head of Preschool
"No word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.” Mark Twain’s quote is wise. It is also some of the best advice out there for parents and teachers. Just stop for a moment and think about it…

I recently listened to an NPR program in which they interviewed Steve Burns, the legendary host of the television show, Blue’s Clues. During the program they dissected the pace of show and the show’s use of well-timed pauses that, according to Variety Magazine, were "long enough to give the youngest time to think, short enough for the oldest not to get bored." The concept of Blue’s Clues was brilliant! It engaged children in creative and meaningful ways and the shows use of wait-time after asking a question gave children enough time to process the information and solve the problem in the show. To watch a short video clip of Steve Burns using this strategy, click here.

The use of well-timed pauses sends a powerful message to children that:
  • They have value in our world
  • Their feelings are important
  • Their voices deserve to be heard
  • They have time to share their thoughts
Many adults understand that a well-timed pause is a powerful communication tool. A pause can highlight the end of sentence or a shift of topic. It can also build anticipation, increase listening during a presentation, or emphasize a point.

However, when we talk to children, we often forget to utilize the power of the PAUSE. As adults, we tend to rush through things and end up limiting their space to think and speak. As a parent, I’m guilty of not leaving enough wait time for Gus to think and respond… I’ll ask a question, and then hardly skip a beat before moving on to another question or simply filling in the answer. This does not work and I know it. Yet, I find it hard to stop. I need to remember the Power of the Pause.

Angela Santomero, the creator of Blues Clues and author of Preschool Clues: Raising Smart, Inspired, and Engaged Kids in a Screen-Filled World, writes about children’s brains. She states that children need more processing time than adults. When asked a question, children need time to think about what the question means. [Pause] They need to process an answer. [Pause] They need to form words to communicate their answer. [Pause] And, they need to verbalize their thoughts. If we forget to pause and follow up with additional questions, we force them to start the process all over again and deprive them of the opportunity to think, process, speak, and feel heard.

In the classroom, our teachers intentionally utilize the pause during morning meeting, when reading books, and while teaching an activity or skill during a learning center time --- pretty much all day long… University of Florida educator Mary Budd Rowe, Ph.D., found that when teachers purposefully employed the pause, students gave higher-quality responses, and their self-confidence increased because they were able to spend time recalling the information and articulating a good answer. In essence, consciously allowing for wait time, or pausing, sets us up for positive interactions with our kids.

The simple technique of pausing makes our job as parents easier. Santomero suggests that an effective pause length is about as long as it takes to spell out MI-SS-ISS-IPP-I. I encourage you get the beat in your head and chant MI-SS-ISS-IPP-I silently after you ask your child a question. Do it until pausing becomes a habit. Once you do, you’ll find that your child has some fascinating things to say and thoughtful insights to share.
Implementing a pause may seem unrealistic at first. After all, MI-SS-ISS-IPP-I is a long time to wait for a response, especially in our fast-paced world. However, I believe that we should strive to build the pause into our daily interactions with our children. This is not going to be easy, but Santomero and others assure us that the payoff for our children — higher self-esteem and the time to think and absorb what is being asked of them, so they can use the right words to give us insight into what they’re thinking — is priceless. A little practice goes a long way. MI-SS-ISS-IPP-I. Pause for a while and think about that. (#punintended)
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Boulder Country Day School, where academic distinction meets education with character. BCD is a top rated, accredited private school in Boulder, Colorado where every child has the opportunity to discover their own unique excellence. Distinguished by small class sizes, outstanding faculty, engaging academics and a focus on community, our preschool, elementary and IB middle school teachers strive to create a well-rounded educational environment that balances traditional subjects with the arts, world languages, athletics and knowledge based units.