When we teach young children, we teach in all areas of development--physical, mental, emotional, social. Our kids are not just learning to stack blocks, they are developing control over their bodies and learning how objects exist in space. They are working with others, learning from what others are doing and talking about their experiences. They are developing concepts about themselves - they are capable and confidence and competent. Often I think we may overlook or minimize these emotional, self-reflective aspects of the teaching/learning environment. A friend reminded me to pay attention to these things.
I watched my friend in the blocks center. He stood up a block on its end and placed another on it. His tower reached about 3 or 4 blocks and tumbled to the ground. He did it a few times, with the same results. He looked around, thinking what to do next. He moved his blocks next to the wall and began again. His end-to-end block tower reached a little higher but tumbled again. After trying this for a few times, he adjusted again. He placed a block flat on the floor as a foundation. Then he stacked his blocks all the way to the window sill. Success!
After basking in his success for a little while, he decided to add to his structure. He began building on the window sill, extending the building higher than before. He tried several different arrangements until he was pleased with the end result.
My friend learned about gravity and balance. He learned about having a secure foundation. He created something that was aesthetically pleasing, artistic, creative. He learned to solve a problem and to persevere.
But I think he continued to learn that he is capable and competent. His sense of accompllishment and confidence was apparent from the beaming face as he worked. He didn't do this to please me or to satisfy a particular assignment or standard. He did show me and want me to comment. But it was at his own direction and for his own "standard" that he did this. And continued at it until it was done.
I contrast this experience to another one I had this week. I was volunteering in a first grade class, helping a couple of students read and complete a math assessment. The teacher was fulfilling a requirement, testing these kids on their understanding of place value, even though she knew these particular kids were struggling. I read through the directions and coached the two kids on their work. At one point the boy doodled and began randomly writing things on the paper. As I redirected him, he said something like, "What a pig! Stupid!" I was really taken aback. He didn't say it with a particular anger, but just statement of fact. I pulled back. "What?" I said. "No one is a pig. No one is stupid. We're just working on our math." (He was talking about himself, and I could tell it wasn't the first time he had that particular self dialogue.)
As we plan activities for young children, let's think about how to build confidence and competence. We don't want kids to question their abilities or lessen their own value because they are struggling with something that they may not be ready to learn yet.