• Suzanne Axelsson

To help or not to help...

To help or not to help. This is a post I first wrote in 2013, but I still find it is relevant to share again... We strive to support the children to be competent, to be confident in their abilities and to be problem solvers. So every now and again I feel quite frustrated (and do my utmost to hide that frustration) when children say "I can't..." without even attempting. On Mondays we have "children's choice" - the children get to choose whether they are inside or outside during the morning (although even the inside ones do go for a quick run outside before lunch) - today just 3 of the 8 children that were with us today chose to be outside so I made the most of this opportunity by working on the procedure of getting dressed - as right now it is JUST starting to get cold, soon there will be MORE layers to put on to survive a Swedish winter. I was met with that worst sound of all "I can't..." with maximum whine laid on thick... "Have a try" One of the three children has a try and succeeds... the other two stand there looking at their outdoor clothes whining almost mantra-like "I can't..." After realising the whole "have a try" approach was just not going to work I used the "Well how are you going to solve this problem?" approach - child one (already partially ready) cottoned on directly and when it got tricky came to ask for help rather than saying "I can't..." loudly I answered with great enthusiasm, "Of course I will help you..." in the hope that the other two will stop focussing on what they think they cannot do and have a try at asking for help. No that didn't work either. So I had to explain to them directly - that since they did not want to try themselves, then they needed to solve their problem of getting dressed another way - and that asking for help might be a solution. Silence. Then one asked for help - he received the help he needed with encouragement to try himself... The last child sat and stared at his shoes... "I Know you can put your shoes on..." Now the two other children fully kitted out were beginning to get sweaty (and complained of being too hot and sweaty) - and my feeling of how do I proceed started getting noisier in my head - do I give up and just dress the child so the others don't sweat or do I perservere. I decided this time to perservere - we HAVE to practice, winter is coming and he is going to have to be able to do this... in fact he WAS able to do this half a year ago - so I was not asking too much of him... Eventually after many reminders to do each getting dressed step and many reminders that he needed to ask for help rather than just say "I can't..." we were finally all ready. We went to play at the children's favorite play area at the moment... And as I observed I noticed how one child helped another up onto the structure and then tried to get up afterwards (the two children who had struggled a little more to get dressed)... and then asked for help up himself. The child already on the structure tried to hoist him up and soon discovered and exclaimed that he was "too heavy" - so he jumped down and pushed him up and then climbed up by himself afterwards. The joy of NOT hearing the words "I can't..." Together they solved the problem themselves. Now it is just a case of getting that to happen in the cloakroom... But my thought is... asking for help is actually a skill we need to teach children (and maybe some adults) and that the help that comes from this request is NOT compromising their competence - as we have in fact helped the child to learn how to solve a problem - of putting on tight jackets etc... Learning to ASK for help can be just as an important skill as helping others. There is a difference though between ALWAYS asking for help without ever trying and learning to ask for help when you need it... it's a balance, like everything in life...

It is always so interesting to go back in time and read small episodes like this. Knowing how the story ended and how the children became extremely competent at dressing and undressing, and learned how to ask each other for help in the cloakroom and not just the teacher/adult. Because if we want a democratic learning and play space then all the help power cannot just sit with the adult, especially when often these are skills that some of the children have already mastered and can then teach and help each other. I still continue to feel that supporting children to learn how to ask for help, when they need it, is important. To not just sit and focus on what they cannot do, but manage what they can, seek help with what is tricky from a person that can help them master that skill for themselves.

For me, this step from "I can't.." to "can you help me with.." is just as important as the move from "I don't know" to "I need a thinking pause..." - it allows the child not to dwell on what they cannot, and allows them to see what they can still learn and discover. it feels so much more positive, and connects to my sense of we are all on a learning journey, picking up skills and knowledge as we go along and apply them later...

helping a friend onto play equipment... and not having to turn to an adult... empowers children in their own play

helping each other paint. This is a part of the Together Painting Process... it gives children the opportunity to interact with each other and also ask for help, as well as resolve other issues...

sometimes helping can be cheering a friend along, especially one that needs some extra help to overcome feeling messy... the last arc was walked by a child that hated when feet got wet... the child's peers all cheered in encouragement, empowering the child who not only managed to do the task, but did it with a smile and a huge sense of pride. The whole group knew how magical this moment was.

other fears can be overcome by asking for help... to look closely at something that seems a little scary at first, and then eventually feel brave enough to try holding a once scary snail themselves...

this is actually the original photo from thsi blogpost... of the actual children helping each other. At age 3 this was so hard to get up onto... a big challenge that required help... 2-3 years later its was just a small hinderance to step and negotiate as they ran and played tag and other games here... it meant we needed a variety of play spaces to ensure there was always challenge somewhere in their week!

#observation #outsideplay #democratic #OriginalLearning

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© 2017 Suzanne Axelsson. Interaction Imagination. Stockholm, Sweden.

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