Transcript of Letting your child take the lead

Parent podcast 4 – Letting your child take the lead (minutes seconds)

Jacqui Ward – Welcome to the learning every day in every way through play podcast series. My name is Jacqui Ward and I'm the early learning coordinator at the department of education. And I'm here with my colleague Donna.

Donna Deehan – Hi everybody Donna Deehan is the transition everybody. Donna Deehan is the transition advisor at the department of education. And we're going to be talking in this episode about letting your child take the lead. So really this episode is all about the way we view young children, it's about seeing them as capable, competent thinkers and learners. It's about the fact that, you know, acknowledging that young children actually think differently to adults. They're concrete thinkers, which means they learn through doing and they're also capable of holding many ideas in the front part of their brain, which as we get older we can no longer do. So, it's about, I guess, keeping that in mind when you are supporting your children in learning at home and knowing that, that they're thinking differently to you, and giving them opportunities, I guess to be their natural selves in their learning. Also I guess that's also acknowledging that they can keep those ideas, as I said, in the front of the brains, which means that they can think really creative and connect ideas.

Donna Deehan – Yeah. Jacqui. And there's a lot of information out there about the importance of playing and interacting with children that, you know, when families have competing priorities and they're trying to juggle, just life in general, it's important to understand that the learning's happening with their children even when they're engaged in their own play without the adult or the family member. Yeah. It's good to understand how you can actually encourage this.

Jacqui Ward – Yeah. And I think that's really the point of this whole series too. It's about making learning visible. So, families can see that, even though they might be busy doing a whole lot of different things themselves, they can see that that learning is happening for that child. And maybe it's an occasional comment or a bit of encouragement that supports that learning. So we're going to really sort of unpack that, you know, how are children learning when they're just playing on their own? And again, it's about acknowledging that they're not just less clever versions of adults, but really about people who think and learn in a different way. So what does that mean for you as a parent in supporting that learning at home and you know, allowing children to take the lead? Also being able to let them sort of direct the type and depth of learning that happens in their play.

Jacqui Ward – I think sometimes as adults we often think that we need to take charge and we need to sort of order and sequence things in ways that take all of those opportunities for that sort of in depth, self directed learning away from children. This podcast is really about that, you know, letting children explore and experience a wide range of different things and, taking that more of an observer role I guess, in seeing what learning is happening and what children are interested in and following that up with them in different ways.

Donna Deehan – Yeah. I mean, you know, when, when children are playing on their own, it opens up a huge sort of range of opportunities because they become really engrossed and quite deep in their play when they're on their own. They've got to rely on them on their own sort of engagement and input. They get, they get to make errors and they can drop things, change things, fix and adjust things. They can move their equipment or their toys exactly where they need them to be on. Look I guess a great example of this would be when a child's say got something like a toy, or a truck in the mud and there's no one there to guide what happens with that. Just the child. So if the truck slips or the car, whatever, then they've got to fix it themselves. If it tips over, they've got to create, you know, a bit that might hold it up. And it's the same, in something like artwork. We're mixing colors and these are things that can just be happening at home all the time. Like who's to say that the hill should be green and the sky is blue, with the child playing there on their own, there's no limit to their imagination or the colors that could be discovered.

Jacqui Ward – Yeah, and I love that example where you talk about the, the truck example there, Donna, because I think this is a really good example where I like to unpack, that's actually a child learning a little bit about, you know, engineering and technology and physics, where you go, well why did it slip and what do I need to do to make changes? You know, and children will often automatically build up a ramp realizing that that's not stable enough foundation or they need to change the angle of elevation, so there's all sorts of learning that's happening when they're engaging in play on their own. And of course that wraps back to things like when you learn at formal schooling, you learn about angles and trigonometry and all those sorts of things. So there's lots of things that's happening in that learning for children and when we allow them to explore and investigate their ideas and things they're interested in, they tend to be much more engaged in the learning as you pointed out.

Jacqui Ward – I know for me, if someone wants me to do something that I'm not keen on as opposed to, you know, can I put my name down for a project that I'm really interested in, my level of engagement is quite different. And I think that's the same for children. So instead of the, you know, the learning being a chore, it's interest based and it's experiential and children are really immersed in that and it's a key factor I think in having a strong start to school and, and children being confident and leading their own learning so they know themselves as a learner and they know themselves as has being able to have influence in their world, I guess.

Donna Deehan – Yeah. I guess just again, just on that truck example, which is a good one because I think families can sort of picture that happening at any point at home- it’s allowing for the mastering of those skills that you're talking about Jacqui, which is what they do through experimenting. Do you know if there was an adult there, the adult might fix that issue or sort of say, you know, I can put this, if I help you push this bit of mud up here, it'll make a, you know, your truck won't slip or whatever, but without that adult intervention that the child's sort of only limited by themselves so that they can take their own learning, they can take a lead and their experiences in any direction they wish. So I guess, you know, you can look at it as accidental learning. Even though from a psychological point of view, of course it's, it's quite different delving into that, but the accidental learning that's going on is just amazing. You know, learning about the different textures, why one is more slippery than the other. With the adult, if they're leading that, the child certainly doesn't get that deeper level of taking on board, you know, how much dirt do I need or why does it change when I had dry dirt or they that it comes right back to their own hands on experience.

Jacqui Ward – Yeah, yeah, I agree there. I would probably call it incidental learning and I think that incidental learning is some of the most complex learning that that children are going to get. And again, it's when that's that child led learning through play, there's some of the things that we associate with that future focus learning and those 21st century skills. We want children to be, you know, critical thinkers. We want them to be able to problem solve. We want them to be engaging with science, technology, engineering and maths. And these are some examples of what you're doing there. You know, when you talked about those states of matter with the dirt, that's chemistry in action there, you know and again, as children naturally experiment, investigate and research how and why things work. A classic example is when children ask why, and they ask it over and over and over and they do things and they repeat actions. That's them, you know, as you said, mastering skills and investigating and you know, they ask why again and again and again. And when you give an answer and they're trying to process and fit those pieces together and what they've learned before, it may be annoying as a parent at the time to, you know, keep answering that why question. But again, it's such a, it's such a worthwhile and meaningful learning that's happening incidentally, all throughout the day.

Donna Deehan – Yeah. And you know, we need to, it's that continual why, why, why. Children are solidifying their skills as they learn and they lead their learning through play and they need those chances. They need to continually ask why or how, so that they can ‘bank’ for want of a better word. They can bank on their skills they learned the prior day or before. Um, I, I look, I always think about the, um, the a good example of a child packing their bag when you're talking about early numeracy skills or the, you know, when things don't fit into your bag in the morning, we can do it the same as adults. We want to shove it in, and in the family morning rush always that we want to fix things for the kids and not giving them a sort of to do those everyday activities.

Donna Deehan – And look, I've had a laugh at some of the memes that are on social media today about adults stuffing their luggage with determination into overhead lockers on planes and all that sort of stuff when we have a good giggle about it. But it came right back to the beginning of learning these sorts of skills. A child who problem solves that- how to pack their lunch box and their drink bottle and all that into their preschool backpack. The is immense problem solving skills going on there. There's lots of trial and error. They're developing things like patience and it's quite a skilled thought process. And transferring that into all their other skills, leading into learning and throughout their schooling and then again into adult life.

Jacqui Ward – Yeah, definitely. And, and I'll come back to that. I thought a bit of an example of that, you know, the repetition is children make sense of their world and make connections between things. I've got a really good example of that with my own son when he was about two and one day when he was just playing by himself and he lined up all of the animals that we had. I didn't realize we had so many toy animals, but we had, you know, like little plastic ones. We had stuffed toy versions and he was lining them all up, standing them up until he got to some stuffed toys that he couldn't make stand up on his own. So he then started lying them down and then he went back and changed all of the animals to be in that same anatomical position. And I remember even to this day thinking, you know, what great learning was happening there for him as a two year old, knowing about things like engineering, not being able to get something to stand up on its own cause it didn't have the strength thing. You know, he tried a few times but then he couldn't do it. And the idea of position and patterning, you know, which are all really important skills for numeracy and maths.

Donna Deehan – Absolutely. And look, if you think about that example, Jacqui, imagine if, you know, you'd intervened and took the lead away from his, ….what he's playing. But we can see the learning happening and the outcome could have been completely different. And often sometimes when we've interfered to a degree and we take that leading of their own learning away the outcome changes children's and sometimes just walk away and lose interest. So I guess for parents and families at home, you can use those questions and queries to set up an area to let the child engage. It's just sort of leading their learning where they're sort of heading. It can be something like water in a tub if you had questions about that sort of thing and some food coloring, sort of setting up some of those steps and look, oftentimes that's not even needed. Obviously those other couple of examples, you don't really need to set up anything to let them to go off and explore. But if, if it calls for it, you can set up, there's no right or wrong in any of this and the experimentation could just take on its own adventure.

Jacqui Ward – Yeah, and I think you raised a really good point there because I think sometimes we think children need a lot of toys and things to play with and you know, we need to set out things or present things that we're going to teach them and have them engage with. But you know, I think that often takes away, that imagination and creativity of when you've got those, you know, resources where children have the opportunity to paint as you said, to play with playdough or to mess around with old recycled boxes, all those sorts of things. They're getting the opportunity to think about the way they put things together and the way they represent ideas and all sorts of different things.

Donna Deehan – Absolutely. And it's just supporting that development of creativity. You know, if the child has the interest there, there might be diggers in the street, there might be some work going on the street and, the adult can create the beginnings of that scene or just sit back and let the child, you know, the child can pick up anything. It could be a rock or something. Jacqui, as you were saying, and then, and use that for their digger that's in their street or something. It's just sort of being aware that that's going on. And, you can you level fostering that sort of creativity. I think it's just knowing when to stand back a bit and when to, to let it fall into its own learning. But also on this note, I think sometimes we forget this. It's extremely good for child's creativity to feel bored or there's nothing wrong with feeling bored with brain development, it means that the child has to continually process something if it's always entertained and always has to have a thought pattern. However, if we, if we give the child some space, you know, nothing to sort of think about or do, then a natural process is for their mind to begin thinking creatively. It just happens. Innately, they'd begin to think and they can think unencumbered and without any other direction.

Jacqui Ward – Yeah, I wholeheartedly agree with you there. And I think we tend to do that more so than ever now in our current world, we give children's screens a lot, thinking that that's the thing that they need. We'll put a video on and we'll put, you know, play a game or all those sorts of things where, you know, you can actually have that, that downtime. And what children will do is, is they will find creative things to do. And I think that's, you know, comes back to what I said before about the idea of providing open-ended resources. So again, that children can do a range of different things with, if we think about, you know, when you're watching a movie, it's a very passive activity as opposed to if I give a child a whole bunch of egg cartons, toilet rolls and, and you know, boxes and things and I give them some glue or some tape and things, all of a sudden now they're, they're having to do a whole lot of different thinking than they would just doing something a bit more passive.

Jacqui Ward – So that's something to think about. It's not just about toys, but it's also if the toys that you do have that are a little bit more open ended, like for example, there's the, you know, there's the LEGO show on TV now and I have a little giggle and I think about how much time my own children loved building and playing with LEGO because you can create so many different things with that. Yes, there are those little packs where you can buy and you can make set things, but for the most part they can build a whole lot of different things. They might build a dinosaur, they might build a house, they might build a bridge, all those sorts of things. So having a think about you know, setting up some interesting place spaces for children that sort of, we call it in, you know, as educators provocations, but it's a fancy word for that. Some interesting things that children might have a creative thought or an idea or a bit of inspiration by, you know, so thinking about reducing the amount of things as well. I think, you know, a lot of children now have a lot of toys and things that they have to play with. So just maybe refining that and offering fewer choices but different things you know, regularly.

Donna Deehan – Yeah, that's right. Just things that are going on in the household. It can be as simple as say, there could be an older sibling that's studying for their HSC and doing a particular project and the younger child has a bit of an interest, you know, sticky beaking over their shoulder or something. And that could lead off with a bit of a, as you mentioned, a bit of a provocation or something to, inspire a bit of learning about that. It could also be as simple as a bunch of flowers arriving at the house and the child shows interest and maybe mentions the colours or something and then the adult in the house can just provide some paints and you know, just leave that to the child and see what comes from them.

Jacqui Ward – Yeah. And I think one thing we haven't really spoken too much about is to the idea of just being outside and engaging and exploring nature. You know, just even in the local park or even the tree that's on the footpath in front of someone's house. There's lots and lots of things that children quite naturally gravitate towards in nature. You know, looking at and exploring shadows, the leaves rustling in the trees, the birdlife or the sounds in the environment. You know, there's whole lot of different learning that's happening in that outdoor space as well of course. As well as the physical things like, you know, kicking a ball and catching a ball. Those are all important things to contribute towards other types of learning, not just physical activity types of learning.

Donna Deehan – Yeah, for sure. It's also important that any sort of toys or things you're providing gets changed around and we don't overwhelm children with one particular thing or a whole load of stuff. Cause we want their motivation and their interest to still be inspired -and it's quite a good idea to pack away things at times. It allows for children to revisit that toy or activity as they may have developed some new skills during the time in between. You know, they might've known new colours or they might understand a bit more about inclines and ramps referring to our truck tracking the mud earlier. And that might completely change how they interact, excuse me, with a familiar or an older toy. Again that brings me back to that in-between time of a child feeling bored. And I know you mentioned that the LEGO that's on the television at the moment, Jacqui, but if a child sort of has a play around with that, then they've got some space in between and they might go and develop some other skills or strengthen their fine motor skills.

And when they come back to that, there's another whole creation that can run off from that. If you've been doing a painting with a child, you know, you could extend that and you might just offer them some other materials to play with. It could be leaves or sticks or forks. And that's something, again, that can happen outside. That's a lot about watching, watching the child, children responding and knowing when to step back and let them involve themselves in their play.

Jacqui Ward – And I think that's a really great way to wrap it up. You know, great message about letting your child take the lead in their play and their learning. So thanks, Donna for our chat today. I think that was great. Lots of good ideas. Yeah, definitely. Ways to support learning every day in every way through play.

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