Thursday, July 05, 2007

Remarkable content

If I told you that kids are loud, squirmy and have short attention spans, you would probably agree. This is not only how adults view kids - it's quite often how kids view kids.

If I told you that I could fill a room with selected activities and keep children under 10 happily occupied for several hours, you might believe me. You would probably look around the room and be unimpressed. What you would see would be kids happily engaged with toys and books featured in most places that educate and entertain children: puzzles, building blocks, books, craft supplies. Nothing remarkable at all.

Nothing remarkable except the effect they have on children. When offered the opportunity to construct or explore models of experience (something all these activities share), children will consistently engage and play cooperatively, peacefully and sometimes with intensity. A roomful of small children busy with these kinds of activities typically makes less noise and experiences less conflict than the average meeting of a similar number of adults.

Is there a catch? Yes.

Adults have to support without getting in the way. That means resisting the urge to construct or impose models for the children. Let them play and watch how their experience grows. Watch it and hear it and feel it as you feel the alternating excitement and relaxation as they settle in and change and settle in again. Provide choices and provide snacks and bathroom breaks.

Do you need to praise? You can praise when you genuinely are impressed or engaged or delighted by what they are doing. It's always a great idea to connect and share positive states. Do they need your praise to enjoy the process in which they are engaged? Probably not. What you are seeing and praising is probably different than what they are noticing in any case.

There's one more catch.

You have to believe that it really is this straightforward. Kids are made to model their world - it's what they do most naturally and with most intensity and most pleasure. Give them the materials and the words they need to make increasingly complex models. They can do it. Can you?

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