Parenting advice / Parents as Teachers

Help on the Way

Hold on, you are thinking, am I supposed to cover all of the steps included in the activities on this blog? Ask all of those questions? Hold my child’s attention for an extended period while doing experiments?

The answer is no.

The idea is to skim through each activity with the goal being that when the next opportunity arises for you to play with your child you will have some different ideas or strategies to try out to promote and extend play. If you did not reach the end of the description, revisit it after posing a question or two, making an observation, or conducting an experiment. Hopefully you have also read the “What is Guiding Curiosity” page or the book Guiding Curiosity: Nurturing the Young Scientist as these materials explain the logic of the GUIDING approach.

Apologies if you feel overwhelmed. I want to provide as many alternatives as possible and demonstrate how many ways you can lengthen a conversation or a play activity with your child. The ultimate goal is that you and your child spend time together puzzling over things…a couple of minutes now, a couple more later. There are any number of ways to achieve that goal, some listed and others that you and your child will devise on your own.

Remember that you are responding to your child’s interests. Pay attention and if you see her pondering a leaf, a tomato, or a snail, then you have an opportunity to nurture that interest. See the world through your child’s eyes. Listen carefully to what she is saying, or if she is not talking, wait a bit and ask what she finds interesting. Seeing and listening are first steps to discerning what form of supportive guiding would be most beneficial.

This is a relationship-centered approach to learning. I want to encourage you to take opportunities to connect through discovery. Affectionate interactions are the MOST important foundations for meaningful development and learning. Successful GUIDING is an outgrowth of a trusting and loving relationship. Interference, criticism, disinterest, or failure to communicate, undermine exploration and productive play. So draw energy from all of the positive aspects of your relationship and take the time to be present with your child and share her interests.

When interacting with your child you may want to consider the following recommendations, to both enrich those interactions and support his or her growing understanding of the world.

• Above all, create opportunities for play. Self-created and directed play creates new learning experiences. Play is most enjoyable when shared and imaginations are fully engaged. This is true for all ages, young and old. Make-believe play can be triggered and enhanced by the simplest things. Think blocks and everyday objects (paper towel rolls). Generally the toys that are available for purchase today already have a narrative (think Disney toys). Most of these toys are designed to create consumers and fail to inspire beyond the need to possess it.

If her play, alone or with a companion, is humming along, rejoice. It is through play that children develop cognitive, linguistic, social and emotional skills; skills we need to be successful. Play is also fun! So think of your job as promoting play, either with or without you involved. You can make play opportunities available or join in when invited or her playfulness is ebbing and needs a boost. A little bit of information or a suggestion at the right time can open up all new possibilities.

Let your child take the lead and reflect her excitement (“You seem really interested in that ant and learning more about it!”). Do not intrude on her play. Learn to guide rather than supplying an answer or doing it for her. This is true when exploring the world around you or just taking care of daily chores or other tasks. This can take practice. Given that you are busy, it is easier to jump in and just get it done. I know that you want to share your infinite wisdom with your child. But sit back, do your own observations, and try making suggestions or modeling the desired behavior to move explorations along towards answers or chores toward completion (cleaning up after play). Parents who take over projects, or solve problems for their children, have kids who are passive and less motivated and self-directed learners.

Explore topics incrementally, a little at a time, but revisit those topics or themes your child has shown a previous interest in, as repetition and practice are what promote learning. If a week ago she asked where the sun goes after disappearing under the horizon and you discussed that, suggest watching tonight’s sunset together for another discussion. Think about these activities as brief but regular conversations lasting a couple of minutes each time your child shows an interest. You are probably already dreading having to read the same bedtime book tonight for the hundredth time. You are sick of it, but your child is still sorting through the plot and characters and looks forward to hearing it read again. Once he has mastered the story he’ll request a new book. So, look for leaves or snails again on another walk. Next time a tomato is involved in a meal preparation, revisit thoughts from an earlier discussion. Identify differences from previous observations or find new things to try. Look at snails, leaves, or that tomato through a hand lens the second time as opposed to just with his eyes the first time.

Demonstrate your own curiosity and show how you might derive answers. Model enthusiasm and passion for learning. You are learning together. But remember, sometimes it is better to show than to talk. So many wonders, so little time.

Know how long you should keep up a discussion or activity, or have some understanding of your child’s capacity for struggle. For many children, frustration is demotivating, so you may need to come to the rescue. Again, you can provide a hint about a solution, comment on his persistence or effort, or help to guide your child to manage his frustration (I see you are struggling, what can we do?).

It’s okay to have a single, focused interest (assuming its safe and legal!). If your child collects rocks, is always drawing, or spends her waking hours thinking of princesses, encourage the development of expertise. A common but unfounded idea is that our children should be “well-rounded” and know a little about a lot of different things. This might work for cocktail parties, but developing a deep knowledge of something may be more valuable for promoting a variety of cognitive skills. So, it may be pirates 24/7……arrgh! Weigh anchor and enjoy.

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