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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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

If You Give a Child Plenty of Time to Play...

There is a natural flow that happens when young children are leading their learning.

If you pay close attention to child's play, one thing always leads to another...there is always one connecting factor between what they are doing now, and what they were doing just moments earlier.

Child's play is really a situation similar to the classic:  "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie".

If you Give a Child Plenty of Time to Play.....

Yesterday and today this truth was blatantly obvious in my play school.   
One moment logically led to the next...and the next...and the next.  And every moment was oozing with valuable learning.  Learning that I couldn't even imagine replacing with something in my lesson plans.

Here's the thing:  
when you give a child plenty of time to play, and you closely observe and facilitate that play; being present with just the right amount of you that each child requires (I need to write a blog post on that topic) the learning is AUTHENTIC.  It is ORGANIC.  It is NATURAL.  It is led by the child's own curiosities and interests AT THAT MOMENT.  THAT, my friends, is the kind of learning that STICKS with a child for the rest of their life.

Child-led play is not teacher-driven, skills and drills learning where information can be regurgitated on the test, or for an assessment only to be forgotten a week/month later.  It does not teach a child to be dependent on an adult to tell them what they will be learning next, or what they should be interested in now.

Child-led play is meaningful learning that is self motivated and easy to recall.  It is based on what is happening NOW and how that affects a child NOW and what it  motivates them to do NOW.  It teaches a child that their independent thoughts are valuable and worthy of being explored.  It empowers children to work through problems and struggles, to try new things, to fail and persevere. 

Without further aduex (I have no idea how to spell "aduex" and judging by the red squiggles, "a-d-u-e-x" is not correct... but since this is not a test... I do not care...and, in case you are wondering, if it were for a test, I still would not care :D  I have lived a fine life without spelling every single word correctly, and though it drives my mother crazy..I quite enjoy using inventive spelling when necessary!)

I present to you:

(Clears Throat)
If You Give a Child Plenty of Time to Play....

When they cut apart the yarn from the trap the leprechaun built in retaliation for the one they built to catch him, the yarn will turn into spaghetti.

When the yarn turns into spaghetti, they are going to need some meatballs to go with it.  Imaginations will be at work as they scrounge around for something to use for meatballs.
When they have cut up all of the yarn, they will realize they need more spaghetti and ask you to get them some more yarn.
When they have access to the yarn, they will be empowered by knowing they are trusted to choose and cut the yarn themselves.  The cutting of the yarn will become the focus for some.

As they add more spaghetti to the mix, they are going to play and play and play...cutting more yarn, mixing it in and building scenarios.  They will be working together towards a common goal and practicing how to compromise as different ideas are offered.
The spaghetti play continues into the following day...when new ideas emerge.

When new ideas emerge, the sensory table needs to be cleaned out (the new idea was:  "let's put the spaghetti in the sensory table!")

When the sensory table gets cleaned out and  they put the spaghetti in, they realize they need lots more spaghetti to fill this large space.  This gives them an opportunity to ask for what they need.
After asking for what they need, and adding more spaghetti, the teacher also adds in some spools of ribbon just for fun.
The spools of ribbon create a moment of curiosity that is immediately explored.

Upon exploration of the ribbon, they decide to unravel it to see how long it is.  When it stretches almost all the way across the room they.....
...are amazed by the length of the ribbon and soon others follow their lead.

They discover that some ribbons are very short.

While others are very long.. maybe even longer than the first one.

When they pull the ribbon, they will discover that it follows them where ever they go..but they constantly test the theory by turning around frequently just to see if the ribbon is still there.

When all the ribbons are stretched out on the floor, and all have been compared by length, color and width. A complete accident happens and they discover that if they jump with the ribbon in their hand, the whole long piece of ribbon will jump with them.  This is a completely fascinating moment.
Meanwhile, another child grabs the odd-shaped PVC pipe that has been removed from the sensory table in order to make room for the spaghetti and uses it as an addition to the raingutter ramp he has built.
They discover that this is crazy fun as the ball doesn't always come out the same hole.

When a game is super fun, they are going to continue to play it, and maybe even make some changes to it.

When they add four balls they learn that not all the balls will make it into the tunnel.

When all the balls do not go into the tunnel, it gives them a reason to fix things a bit and see if they can solve the problem.  After tinkering with it and trying and failing and trying, they determine that the game works the best with one or two balls...but not four!
When one friend is being super clever and inventing a new game, it motivates another to go exploring and invent a game of their own.  While sitting and thinking, they make an awesome discovery about magnets!
They learn that magnets can make each other move WITHOUT touching each other!
When they learn something new, they want to test it again and again just to make sure it is true.

After they have exhausted their testing, they reverse the rolls to see if it works with the other magnet in their hand.  
When they have explored something to exhaustion, it's helpful when their teacher sets up the environment in a way that motivates them to continue exploring in a different way.  They head over to check out what has just been added.
They discover that magnets can move metal balls through paint like magic!  They then discover that the large balls become easily stuck in the paint, but luckily -- 
there are also small magnet balls to manipulate too!
When they discover something that is super fun and exciting, it's very empowering to have the opportunity to teach someone else.

Whenever someone else gets involved they get to work on getting along and taking turns.  These are always valuable moments filled with social skills that will last a lifetime.

Tummies tend to get hungry while they are busy playing and messes have to be cleaned up before snack comes out.


If you give a child plenty of time to play......they are going to need plenty of time to pick up and some magical moments to make it motivating.

Remember all that ribbon spread across the room?

Guess what is the best way to pick it all up that is also CRAZY FUN?!

A shop vac!!!

When all the ribbon is cleaned up, they are going to want to "DO IT AGAIN"!!
And so....
They lay the ribbons all back out on the floor.  When they lay the ribbons all back on the floor, they are going to want to use teamwork and think about the process a little bit.  This can take a whole lot of collaboration and coordination, not to mention hard work!

But it's worth it:

When you give a child plenty of time to play......they are going to look like this:


Denita Dinger is a play school teacher, author and a professional speaker.  Her most popular training is "The Defender of Play Boot Camp".   To book Denita for your upcoming event, or just to receive more information, email her at
Make sure to check out Denita's Facebook page:  "Play Counts" too!