I am constantly surprised by how creative and ingenious young children are in a world where, let’s be honest, adults are always intervening and trying to do everything for them.
As an educator in Reggio Emilia Kinder San Salvador, I have had to learn how to take a step back and give children the space they need to work out how to solve problems for themselves. This is no easy feat when we all live and have been brought up in a culture where we are constantly told that young children are fragile, incapable of doing tasks on their own and need protecting all the time. The fact that, despite this culture surrounding them, children are still searching for moments of independence and let’s call it ‘risk’, fascinates me.
What does this tell us about the way children work? Through years of observation and studying, I have come to the conclusion that children are very capable of solving problems on their own. They are not looking for an adult to intervene and when an adult does intervene we are often halting an incredible learning process.
Every day each of us faces a series of different problems that need to be solved. Imagine if every time you were faced with a problem someone else told you what to do without giving you a chance to think it through for yourself. I know I would find that extremely frustrating and I think many children feel this same frustration when adults intervene too soon.
I have seen that many children will attempt to solve a problem in different ways and they will often ask a friend or classmate to help them before an adult. We are the ones always rushing to solve their problems and in reality we should be their last option. Children are well aware we know how to solve the problem because we are adults and we have already lived through many experiences. They are on an adventure of discovery and as hard as it may be for adults to watch, an incredible journey of trial and error.
So what do children need from the adults around them when they are trying to solve a problem? They need them to take a step back and be a cheer leader – simple as that. Someone who is supporting and encouraging them and helping them to think about another option that might just work. The key thing to remember is that each child has an intrinsic desire to learn how to do things for themselves through their own analysis of the situation they find themselves in. They need adults who are willing to provide them with experiences so that they can learn how to do things for themselves in a safe environment.
We have a trampoline on a base at the kinder which is too high for the children to climb onto without the help of an adult. All the members of staff decided we would stand back and see what happened when there was no member of staff standing close by the trampoline. I watched in awe as a group of two year olds decided they would like to go on the trampoline and put a plan into action. They had a short discussion and then each one went off to find a different toy in the garden. They all met at the trampoline and tried out the heights of the various toys until they discovered which one they could climb on to reach the trampoline. And then they started to climb on the chosen toy and climbed onto the trampoline unaided (at that point there was a member of staff close by just in case anyone needed help). You should have the seen the look of satisfaction on those children’s faces. They had communicated, worked as a team, gone through a process of trial and error and achieved their goal without any adult help.
There is no denying that it is hard for us as adults to give children the space and opportunities they need to grow and develop at their own pace. It makes us feel uncomfortable because we are not fully in control and it is not always going to look how we imagined or even follow the route we thought it would. We have to be willing to adapt with them and present them with new opportunities to grow whenever possible. But it is priceless seeing the joy on children’s faces when they achieve something new and turn to look at you fully aware that they have the best cheerleaders on their team.