We’ve been thinking about how teachers and parents engage with children. While children do their thing, we see a spectrum of engagement, with active engagement on one end and detached observation on the other. Each are appropriate and have their benefits … the key for adults is being mindful of what kind of engagement is called for in a given moment.
When adults are well attuned to the children in their care, they know when to let a child be and when to step in to enhance or deepen the learning process.
There are times when we lead children and are fully engaged. Adult-directed play is an important part of learning, as we create scenarios for children to encounter classic problems and search out workable solutions. Adults provide safe boundaries for exploration and as much guidance as is necessary for kids to find unique (and practical) ways of overcoming obstacles. Too much distance at a time when children need guidance may lead to the kind of failures and disappointments that make a child wary of taking on challenges.
Children should also experience free exploration and play in an environment of non-directive, observational engagement. In this case, adults observe from a little distance, in order to avoid interrupting a child’s creative work. In addition to benefiting a child, from this distance adults can discover something about who our children are. When adults step back, children move at their own pace, create their own kind of order, furnish their own worlds. Too much involvement when children need freedom can lead a child to mistrust their own impulses, to incorrectly assume that they must only do what adults want them to, to shy away from thinking for themselves.
It takes some practice, and patience, to be mindful of where a child is, what their momentary needs are. It’s worth the effort. Ultimately we want to engage kids in a way that encourages them to risk new ventures, both creative and practical. When a child is learning how to create … they need a measure of freedom and a sense that their creativity has value in itself. When a child is learning how things work, they need a measure of guidance and support so that developmentally technical challenges don’t overwhelm them.
Learn these subtle skills and kids grow by measures more confident and free, able to tackle a variety of the challenges our world throws at them.