Letting children make their own discoveries

Unit block play

There are times when you should stand back and let children solve their own problems. If you intervene and explain how to do it, the child may not learn as effectively. Martha, a friend who has been working with young children for 40 years, shared this story:

Gerry wanted to build a block bridge but couldn’t seem to do it. He set one upright in place, then the cross-piece and was dismayed that they collapsed when he let go to insert the second upright. He tried over and over. I could have demonstrated in a moment, but I decided not to. Eventually he moved to other activities. The challenge must have worked in Gerry overnight, because next morning he headed straight to the construction area. In no time, he placed the two uprights and laid the cross-piece on top. Gerry was triumphant and started creating bridges all over the room! He had cracked the problem and made the learning his own.

When Martha decided not to intervene in Gerry’s problem-solving, I wonder if she realised she was taking the same approach as Friedrich Froebel. Nearly 200 years ago he wrote “To have found a quarter of the answer to his own question by his own efforts is of more value to the child than to hear it all, half-understood, from another.”

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