Guiding children is more than anything about education. We teach them what we want them to do, basically.
To make learning easier for them, we need to find the balance between input, output and pause, basically.
Input is everything the children experience. Stimulation and perception from the world in general, other people expressing themselves, books they read, movies they watch.
Output is what the children practices, engage in, express. Including all kinds of activities, skills training, sports as well as arts and crafts.
There should be a variety of input and output. We feel better, learn more and concentrate easier if we get to engage in a mix of physical, mental and social challenges or activities.
Then there is the need for rest and reflexion. Not to be underestimated. This is when pieces fall into place. We all need a break from time to time, but children even more.
Children have a short concentration span.
On the other hand, they may focus very well, if left to their own choice of activity without disturbance.
They can’t be expected to stay alert for long though. Experience needs processing. A child needs to go from thought to action to rest and back again, a lot of times to get it right. And sooner or later things will go wrong and the child will be sad.
Motorskills practices like jumping or balancing acts can be illustrative to watch. The children work and work on the move they want to master. Initially, they keep advancing, but soon becomes clumsier. The muscles gets tired and so does the brain, not used to the new coordination or balancin acts. This tiredness increases the risk of hurting themselves or others around them. They need a break, and we may need to gently pull them away for a pause and perhaps a snack. If highly frustrated they will object to this, so try and be respectful, understanding. Prepare them for the ending, and make it a loving return to socialization e.g. “Now jump one last jump, I will catch you” and do so with a hug and lots of kisses. If their pride have got some hurtful turns, this will make it feel better.
Even working with their fine motor skills the child gets clumsier after a short while. Things get harder and they get frustrated. This is partly because the high concentration level demanded to coordinate and balance small movements, makes the child hold on very tight in order to make the stupid pen move the way the child wants it to. You can see how they start trembling in tension in a short while.
It’s always good to try and switch activity before it becomes dangerous (e.g. when working with scissors or knifes) or just too hard to be fun anymore (e.g. writing letters). After a break with some running around they will have released some of their inner energy and will do better again.
Focus is helped by motivation. Children learn more easily when they want to learn something.
Young children are highly motivated to mimic, because they want to learn what adults do – they want to be able to help us out, but until then at least keep up, take part in the group. They mimic their parents and older children in their surroundings. Later on they will mimic what they see on television or computer games. To play with the children, to take part in their lives, thoughts and fantasies, but also to allow them to take part in your everydaylife – makes them happy. It’s easier for them to learn how to do things, when they see how it’s supposed to be done. Playing gives natural allowance to practice too.
When things get too hard it’s not as fun anymore. Try and quit on top, when practicing. Finish in pride, in a safe spot – challenges are for an earlier stage.
It’s important to keep competition and comparing out of the equation when practicing. There must be a place where you are allowed to make mistakes, maybe even laugh at them (as long as it’s the child laughing, not anyone else laughing at it – then it’s not fun anymore). Skill comes from practice. Challenging yourself along the lines where you might trip gives you better balance at the end.
When challenging the child, it’s to keep it going and keep things interesting. Always push gently, or rather tickle their ambitions a bit: “Wouldn’t it feel great to…?” “There is this thing you could try, but I don’t know, it’s kind of hard… Do you think you can…?” Don’t challenge at all until you know the child masters a basic level, has some feelings of control to go back to. Usually, a child in control seeks it’s own challenges. When you notice this, you can direct it somewhere useful. Try and adapt the advancelevel to the child, not any schedule, and take a break when they succeed somehow, or at least before they start getting tired of trying, because then it feels boring next time.
Children loose focus quite quickly when we talk to them in complicated words. This is not so strange, given that the whole understanding of language is a recent skill in continuous progress during the first years. It demands great concentration just to translate words into pictures, or memories of a certain act.
Abstract words, like “not”, passes straight through the young child. They can’t grasp the meaning! This is why, when you want to teach the child NOT to do something, you need to:
1) show them the meaning of “no” and “stop” (e.g. holding them still or lifting them down, or holding the hand still when waving around with a pen) and
2) tell whem what to do instead (e.g. “here is where we draw, on this paper”).
Do this kindly and friendly, in a teaching way. Be prepared to repeat and stand your ground (still as friendly as possible), not because the child means any harm, but because they want to make sure they understand what you mean. They practice learning by doing, and repetitions help memory. A rule that has been tried thouroughly is still probably forgot a year after. We need patience, and accept to repeat ourselves.
This is what parts of the “defying age” is about. The child wants to learn to control its environment. It needs to understand it, thereby to curiously inspect every rule and limitation: Where exactly is the outer border here? Why can’t I cross it? What happens when I get close? What happens if I cross it?
More to come…