Monday, March 23, 2015

Respect Child-led Play: Wait for Your Invitation

Think of all the special events you have attended in your life.
Would you have crashed the party without being invited?
Would you have waltzed on in, suggested how things could be done differently and then helped yourself to some beverages and nibblies?

Of course not.

Think of a time when you have been in the middle of a project.  You are focused on what you are doing, enjoying the fact that you are getting things accomplished.

What if your spouse suddenly crashes in and corrects you?
What if your spouse starts telling you that your method is wrong and you should do it their way?

Would you be offended?  
Of course you would.

What about child-led play? 
Have you ever crashed in on child-led play without being invited?

Have you ever offered advice or a solution that wasn't solicited?

Have you ever stopped a child in the midst of their own technique because you had this incredible urge to teach them how you would accomplish the task at hand?

I am betting you have done at least one of the three, if not all.  I know I have, or I wouldn't be writing about this!

For whatever reason, it is very hard for adults to understand their role in child-led play.
It is hard for adults to understand that sometimes, children really don't want to hear from us.  (gasp!  I know!)
It is darn near impossible for some adults (myself included) to bite their tongue and give children the RESPECT they deserve and WAIT FOR AN INVITATION into their play rather than just crashing in, completely unwelcomed.

Last week.... I crashed child-led play.  It was a HUGE "aha" moment.  (For heaven's sake!!  When will the "aha" moments finally cease?!!  I have so many "aha" moments it's not even funny.  I could have a wall-o-aha-moments, a photo-album-ala-aha!)

Let me set the scene:

This is Bennett.
Bennett is an amazing child with amazing ideas.
He has set up the game he invented the day before:  "SUPER BALL GAME!"
See how he has carefully placed a PVC pipe connector at the bottom of this plastic rain gutter?
The goal:  release a ball down the ramp and watch it come out one of the two holes in the pvc connector.

It didn't take long for Bennett to come up with a new idea!
He decided to add plastic jars to the end of his ramp to catch the balls.

I am quietly observing, thinking this is so awesome.  I can hardly wait for him to be successful with this GRAND idea!

After carefully placing the jars....he released the first ball. 
A hush fell across the crowd of observers (, basically, I was quiet .. everyone else was engaged in their own tasks and had no clue what Bennett was up to... but when do I ever get to say "A hush fell across the crowd...?")

Was he successful?
 No.  But SO CLOSE!
Not one to be easily discouraged, he grabbed another ball, went back to the ramp and tried it again.
Failed again.
At this point, Bennett was ready to move on.  He grabbed the balls, one at a time and placed them into the jar.
No big deal...right?
Well.. apparently, my adult brain was having fits about this.  Internally I heard a very dramatic:  "NOOOOOOOO!!!!  You can't give up!  YOU.MUST.TRY.AGAIN!"

Bennett had moved on to exploring the balls inside the jars.... and, in hindsight, I should have left it alone.  But.....I didn't.

Instead, I grabbed my super hero cape, and I crashed Bennett's play.
I swooped in (insert appropriate Indiana Jones music), uninvited and unwelcome and offered my unsolicited advice.

I said:  "Bennett!  You are SO close!  Look.  All you have to do is....." and I proceeded to take a jar out of his hand (oh the shame) and show him how the pvc pipe could fit INSIDE the jars.

After I connected one jar, we ran a test ball...SUCCESS!
I stepped back and let him connect the second jar.
(It was at that moment the Indiana Jones music came to a screeching hault and I remembered this is not MY was his, so perhaps I should let the poor child participate in his own play.)

Bennett then dropped a second ball down the ramp....

I instantly pictured confetti falling all around us as we happily celebrated this awesome accomplishment.

When I opened my eyes to reality...Bennett had quietly left the scene and ran off to play something else.
There was no "THANK YOU DENITA!  You were a life savor!  How could I possibly play without you?"

There was no "WOO HOO!!  We did it!"

There was.... NOTHING but a child who no longer owned his own discovery.
There was... NOTHING, but a child who lost the control he had of his own play.
There was... NOTHING, but an adult who recorded yet another "aha moment" for the books.

What did I learn?

I learned that it's not all about succeeding.
I learned that perhaps children understand that the process can be just as much fun and rich as success.
I learned that teaching does not necessarily mean to "show you a better way".
I learned that SOMETIMES, teaching means to stay back and enjoy the show, giving ownership of the entire process to young children.
I learned that the quickest way to end child-led play is to crash in, uninvited.

Respect child-led play.  
Wait for your invitation.

Denita Dinger provides trainings across the US and Canada.  Her material is appropriate for parents, teachers, before and after school program staff and administrators.
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