If there is one thing everyone should know about helping children learn, I think this is it. It’s the main point I have taken away from my early childhood training and years of teaching. Follow their lead – let the children lead their learning.
We know it ourselves as adults, if you are interested in something, you are more likely to engage in it. If you’re not, chances are, it will be pretty hard to ‘get into it’. I think the mainstream schooling system has given some people the perception we as adults need to be the ones teaching children. I know many schools these days are much more progressive, but even for my generation, teachers were teachers and children were the ones on the ‘receiving’ end of the learning. Luckily our NZ early childhood curriculum has given children the authority in their learning, putting them at the forefront, not necessarily ‘what’ needs to be learnt.
So let me give you a little example of one way, I tried to follow the lead of Rakeiora. Here is my son icing biscuits or cookies, depending on what you call them. In a single glance this is all it looks like. However about an hour before this, he pulled out this book ‘May I please have a cookie?’
It’s not one he goes to often or one he had read in a while, but I do love that this book belonged to one of my nephews and he loved it. So anyway Rakeiora grabbed it and sat at the table and asked me if I could read it to him. We sat down and read it and as I often do with English books, I’ll add in some Māori translations here and there. At the end of the book he said he wanted to make some cookies. I thought about it – I could make some with him right then, so why not. “He whakaaro pai tērā, me tunu tāua – That’s a good idea, let’s make them.”
Sometimes Rakeiora likes to be quite involved with the whole baking/cooking process and sometimes he doesn’t, so I just let him take part wherever he wants to really. At this time, he wanted to add in the ingredients, do a bit of stirring and lick the beaters of course! He pulled out a bamboo steamer at one point and told me it was his ‘ipu’ or container just like the one on the cover (referring to the cookie jar).
Once they were in the oven, he kept checking on them and as soon as they came out he wanted to put them in his ‘ipu’. I explained they needed to cool down and once they were cool, he said he wanted to ice them. My first actual thought was no, biscuits don’t need icing! It’s not something I’ve ever done but then of course, he reminded me that Alfie’s cookies had icing on them. So I started getting the icing ready and of course they had to be the same colour as the book. I gave him one biscuit on a plate and let him go to it, icing it how he wanted to. He put a heck of a lot on, but once he thought it was done, he stopped and was keen to eat it! “Rite ki a Alfie nē Mama – Just like Alfie Mama,” he said.
It’s moments like these that make it all worth it (and even though his eyes tell the story of how sick he felt he was still having fun). Luckily I had the time to be able to let him make cookies just like Alfie. I was able to let him build on the learning from reading the book, by actually doing it. There is so much learning he was able to take from this whole process. Not only the messages in the book, but the process of cooking which includes learning about maths (measurements), science (mixing, heat, rising, cooling) reading (following a recipe, not that he can read it but he can see me doing this), and fine motor skills as he tips ingredients and ices the cookie. This is just some of the learning that is possible during this one experience that he initiated.
I see many examples of ‘learning activities’ that some people do with their children. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for these, as long as the children want to do them. So if they want to dance and sing, let them dance and sing. Let the learning happen, you don’t need to force it.