Teachable Moments

Slow Down and Simplify: The Importance of Child-Led Learning

Sometimes it feels as though the day flies by. That there is not even one spare moment of peace to be found until you collapse into bed at night. In all this rush and chaotic sweeping energy, it can be challenging to slow down and give children time to learn.

You may be thinking, “Wait a minute, part of my crazy busy daily schedule is driving my child all over town for different classes, so they can learn!”

I’m not speaking of that type of learning; the learning that happens in a desk, with a planned curriculum and a set of outcomes for what the child must be taught.  I’m speaking of the vitally important learning that takes place when children are given ample time to do things for themselves, to learn how to problem solve and come up with creative solutions or new ways of learning.

Children, especially when young, take their time when learning new skills. The brain adds on layers of synaptic connections as each facet of a new skill is mastered and stored into long-term memory.

Learning happens in layers and so often teachable moments and child-led learning are blown over by time’s tornado. This can be seen when children’s questions are quickly answered or brushed off with a “because,” when parents do things for their child, or when a child who wants to help is told that it will take too long.

A flurry of Query

Children are inherently curious. At any given moment there are an infinite amount of questions bursting in your child’s mind, most often starting with, “WHY.”

What if you asked your child a question or series of questions in return to their question? Why not?

Why not lead your child towards uncovering the answer for them-self? Why not nurture your child towards child-led learning?

When children are guided to find their own answers, they are empowered. They will have learned valuable skills for problem solving that will contribute to their ability to figure things out for themselves in the future.

The art of questioning can be challenging at first but with some practice you will learn what works best with your child. Start with small easy to answer questions that give your child confidence. Then move on towards more challenging questions that require a bit of thinking.

Unstructured Free Play 

In school, children do not get much time for unstructured play. Teachers tend to lead play, this changes the dynamics of children’s play. Some schools offer free play in which teachers take a more observational role but their presence is still felt by the children and has the potential to alter play. As children get older the amount of time they are given for play decreases drastically.

While classes can be a great way for children to gain new experiences they often do not capitalize on children’s inborn ability to learn through play. In fact, the primary way in which children learn is through play, not through rigid lectures or mindless worksheets. So, by scheduling classes every night each week children may end up missing out on a crucial piece of learning, play time!

Unstructured free play is a time when children are the masters and creators of their play. It is completely child-led and ideally free of an authority figure’s contributions.

Offering unstructured free play may require you to slow-down and simplify your child’s schedule. Instead of rushing around to different classes relax into giving your child time to just play.

Risk-Taking in Play

Unstructured play has an inherent element of risk. It can seem scary to some parents who may have concerns about children’s safety. One of our primary instincts is to protect children. However, without experiences overcoming challenges independently how will your child be able to deal with life experiences later on?

There may be some elements of risk taking in child-led play and that is okay. Instead of thinking of all the negative things that may come from your child taking a risk, ask yourself what the benefits will be.

Below are just a few of the ways that children benefit from risk-taking

  1. Decision making and reflection: When a child is approaching a risky situation, they need to engage in the process of decision-making and assessment. After the risk has been taken reflection on the efficacy of their decision will occur. Were they successful or do they need to come up with a new strategy? Taking this time to make a decision and then reflect on the decision will lead to an increased ability to approach risk in the future.
  2. Development of body awareness: When children take risks, they learn where their abilities lie and have opportunities to improve. Children naturally seek out experiences and sensory input that will help them grow into the next stages of development. When children are allowed opportunities for free play and risk taking they build developmentally appropriate body awareness, strength, and coordination. When time is not made for these opportunities we see children who are delayed in areas of development, often sensory and motor.
  3. Cultivate confidence: When children take risks, they learn that it is okay to make mistakes. They also gain experience, through reflection, in learning from their mistakes. When a child has opportunity for risk-taking and failure they will learn coping skills for moving past failure and finding strategies for success.

Slow Down and Simplify 

We need to slow down and simplify our children’s schedule to nurture their innate need to learn through child-led play. Ultimately, this will empower children to be independent, confident, and capable beings who are developmentally strong.  Children who are given this chance will have a willingness to approach life creatively and with joy, even in the face of challenges.

A child once asked me, “Why do adults think children can’t do things?” She had just accomplished a very challenging and risky task on her own. Although it took a lot longer than it would have if I had just done it on my own the look of pride on her face swept away the pressure of time. I think the answer to her questions is that we do not give them a chance. What do you think would be the answer for you?