The Lesson of NOT

Posted on: November 6, 2016 11:00 am

One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn (and continue to learn) working with children is to NOTnot answer a question, not tell them what’s about to happen, not tell them why, not show them how, not give them the solution to a problem, etc. The list goes on and on.


Of course, I’m not talking about denying children the help and information they need (“Watch out; that’s hot!”); I’m talking about allowing them to discover and uncover and invent on their own (“How DOES the projector work?”) 


If we believe children are capable humans with an innate drive to understand their world and the capacity to construct their own learning (and I hope we do believe that!) then we have to give them opportunities to practice and demonstrate that. 


The only way to do that is to shut up, get out of the way, and let them.


Often young children ask a question that they already have an hypothesis about. Turning that question back to them gives them permission to share their ideas about the world and how things work. There’s a lot of magical thinking at this age, and that’s okay. In fact, that’s part of the beauty of childhood: the belief that anything can happen!


There are very few reasons to "correct" their ideas, provided those ideas don’t pose potential hazards. In fact, at this young age, "correcting" ideas can inhibit creativity and demotivate children. Understanding exactly how the kiln works or how the printer makes copies is not necessary to a child’s life yet (they will “know” soon enough.) Trying to figure it out on their own, however, allows them to develop ideas, to think critically and logically, to imagine what they can’t see, to suppose various cause and effect situations, to plan, to follow through, to wonder, to dream.


Nothing drives the human mind like a question we don’t know the answer to. 


Our goal, then, should be to provide opportunities for lots of questions: questions that are both simple and complex, that provoke, that prod, that push, that challenge both adults and children, deep questions, little questions, questions that can work like a treasure map, providing a direction for children to head toward, in pursuit of the understanding of...well, who knows what? 


Today’s children are the architects of our future. 


I, for one, cannot wait to see what they create. 

Moon Bishop

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