Who is your child's best teacher? Part 2 of 2 By Emma Hart - Head of Teaching
Continued from part 1.... READ PART 1 HERE
I used to find this difficult to manage as a teacher. I found myself repeatedly showing children how to hold an instrument properly and correcting their experiments (perceived ‘failures’) as I thought this would help them master it more quickly. After all, wasn’t that my job?! What I have discovered since, is that if children are given the space to satisfy their curiosity, they become more receptive and engaged. What’s more, the discoveries made can actually accelerate the lesson, simply because they catch-on. Children inspire each other!
In order for all of this to unfold I had to let go of the idea that there was a ‘correct’ way for things to happen.
For example, now I love watching children discover tone blocks. These instruments are basically a wooden cylinder with a handle. They have a hollow for the sound, and a stick with a small sphere on the end to help make a lovely loud sound when it strikes the cylinder. So much to discover! Children tend to want to put the stick inside the hollow and try out all the ways it can swirl around! This is not the traditional way to play the instrument and could easily be interpreted as silly or disruptive behaviour, however, with some observation and a few questions, together we discover that they can make lots of different sounds. Some are quiet, and some are loud. This immediately empowers the children to take more care and interest in their discovery. It gives it real meaning and they treat their experiment with genuine respect. Responding to the dynamics accordingly.
My point is simply that, with gentle guidance the discovery process is nurtured, and it is no longer frustrating, rebellious, or ‘silly’ behaviour. Instead it becomes quite scientific.
So, what is our role in the learning process as parents and teachers? Firstly, it is important to know that as a parent or primary carer, you are the most important teacher in your child’s life. They are watching everything you do, and thus you are a role model. Even if you don’t think you know how to teach, you already are, simply by what you express and how you feel about what it is you’re participating in. Taking this into consideration, it changes your role in the learning environment (and arguably all environments). Your child will be looking to you for cues, and the younger they are, the more they will want to observe and explore, all the while watching you for reassurance and direction.
This deconstructs the traditional picture we may have, where the teacher gives an instruction and the students participate dutifully. It can look, quite frankly, much more chaotic or even subtle.
It is often the case in a classroom to have a few students watching (observing) with others trying things out for themselves, some may be clinging to a parent or carer, alongside another who is moving about discovering things around the room. All of these responses are valid and important in making the children feel safe in the room and environment, and the activity feel familiar.
So, what do we do as adults in this scenario? We get involved! We don’t need to move the child’s body or put the instrument in their hands. In fact it can be a much stronger incentive for some babies or toddlers to try the dance moves or play the instrument after they have seen their parents or carers doing it.
When we are not involved directly in an activity, namely with older children, one of the most powerful things we can model is that of being an engaged audience. Children will look to their carer constantly throughout a lesson, and what they see can have a powerful effect on their own concentration and engagement in the class. If the parent is distracted on a screen (or otherwise engaged) this can at times send a message that what is happening in the room is of little interest. Children can sometimes become despondent or disruptive as a way of gaining some attention from their most important person, even if it is in a negative way.
In his article 'How babies learn – and why robots can’t compete', Beard unpacks and explores the complexity (and simplicity) of how human infants learn, and the science behind it. The take home message is that the learning process is a social one and our role as parents, teachers and caregivers is to look, listen and respond as much as possible, in order to understand what they are communicating.
Exploration is a crucial developmental stage, and it is within this realm that infants and children can take risks and experience a freedom to join-the-dots independently. It stands to reason that allowing the space for this has the potential to build a very strong foundation of confidence, resilience and the ability to question the mechanics of the world around them. All of which are fundamental skills for social, classroom and (later on) work settings.
If we intervene too much, we pose the risk of interrupting this process.
To quote Beard’s article, 'Treat kids like robots during early learning and you put them off for life’.
Sources and further reading;
Babies (Documentary, 2010) https://www.sbs.com.au/ondemand/video/787919427688/babies
Australian Early Years Learning Framework
Soili Perkiö - profile
How babies learn – and why robots can’t compete (Alex Beard, 2018)
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