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Why is it so important to allow children to do things for themselves?

Updated: Dec 7, 2020

It would be so much easier (and save time) if we did it for them.

In the preschool classroom, when a child says “I can’t do it,” the teachers take that as an opportunity to support building independence and confidence, as well as to scaffold on existing knowledge to build new skills. For example, when a child wants to draw a shape but can’t quite make it look the way she wants, instead of doing it for her, or even showing her how, the teacher has an opportunity to work with the child to create new connections in her brain development and build autonomy.

The conversation may go something like this:

Child: I can’t draw a heart.

Teacher: What does a heart look like?

Child: It goes like this (draws in the air).

Teacher: Mmhmm. Do you want to try putting that on the paper?

Child: I can’t.

Teacher: I think you can. I’ll sit next to you while you try.

Teacher: What is the first part that you want to draw?

Child: The bumps.

Teacher: OK, try that.

Child: (draws the bumps)

Teacher: What is the next part you want to draw?

Child: The bottom. It has a V.

Teacher: Great! Try that. Is the v attached to the bumps?

Child: Yes (draws the V).

Teacher: Anything else?

Child: (Extends the lines on the v to attach to the bumps)

Teacher: smiles

Child: I did it!

Teacher: You worked really hard too!

The child’s heart may not be perfect. It may not even resemble a heart. The point is that the teacher helped the child make the task seem doable. The child drew her own heart, in her own way. The teacher used guiding questions to build on the child’s knowledge and scaffold her skill to the next level. She did not use a model, and she did not do it for her. The child’s brain did the work, the child learned that she is capable, and she learned that whatever results from her efforts, the effort itself is the true accomplishment.


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