Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There! (Part 1)

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(Original version published on Play Empowers in 2015)

As early childhood educators and teachers most of us love to get down and dirty and play. We love to be fully engaged with the kids, playing as if we were kids. What can be wrong with that? Why am I selective about these times?

This is the first part of a two-part series on facilitation–you’ll find the second part here.

Facilitating kids learning often means stepping back and observing, watching and seeing when and where I am needed. I do jump in and play with the children but always for a specific reason that benefits a child or the community. This comes from watching and understanding when I am needed and when I am not. 

All kids want attention, to be included but not all want to be part of activity or group. Like it or not, an adult has power and most kids crave an adult’s attention and approval. When I jump into play or become very involved with one of the kids the other kids will often stop what they are doing and come over and join the game/activity. Part of the draw is knowing they can gain my attention and my approval if they join with the group and/or activity. What’s the problem with this? 

The children often stop what they are doing. 

As a facilitator it is my job to scaffold, to provide assurance when the child seeks it, to help them follow their own path. If children are often stopping what they are doing I am no longer facilitating child chosen, child directed learning.  Instead the children do what I want them to do because I am leading with my example, with my focus and with my attention. 

Many teachers make teaching look effortless through this technique as their students seem to follow them with a Peter Pan like atmosphere. But child directed learning isn’t about kids following teachers, it is about kids following their own path. 

I know some are thinking. Oh – I know many of my kids that would keep chugging along and ignore the group. So, let’s look at them. If I am involved somewhere else, I am not giving attention to their activity and I miss opportunities to facilitate. By missing those opportunities and by putting my attention elsewhere I also put value on that activity with my attention and by default put less value on a solitary child’s activity.

What message does this send to the child when their activity is not valued?  Equally important – what message does this send to the group when this child is not as valued? 

Facilitating by need means I see when a child needs scaffolding, when they need reassurance, when they need to explore, when they need to be in process without me and so much more. When I meet that need, I send the message to the child that their ideas, discoveries and processes are valued.  I also send a message to the group that everyone’s ideas, discoveries, processes are valued. This helps children see not only themselves and their place in the community but also that everyone, though different, has value and contributes to the community in their own way. 

Barbara Sheridan founded Barrie Forest Kindergarten and Nature School in 2012 where she facilitates a toddler playgroup, forest kindergarten and Project Based Learning group. Barbara has more than 20 years experience in developing and training professionals and parents on child directed programming and techniques both through one on one consultation and small group workshops all over North America. Barbara is contributor and resident writer for several organizations including Early Learning Explorations. She has received her Forest Kindergarten Teacher training, a Child and Youth Work diploma, a Degree in Psychology and is currently pursuing a Masters in Education focusing on innovation, creativity and sustainability. She is passionate about passing on her knowledge and experience to you.