I like to use this comparison when I am explaining the difference between a learning experience and an activity. Let’s compare the learning experience of threading vs. the activity of beading a bracelet. Threading is an open ended strategy for practicing skills and knowledge, for example fine motor skills manipulating small items and patterning and sequencing skills. Children also develop creativity and imagination of what the child’s threading might be…is it a crown, a snake (my daughters personal favourite, every piece of string is a snake) a necklace, a belt or a bracelet. They can choose what sort of items they want on the threading (anything that has a hole or can have a hole in it can be threaded). For some children it is just something they wanted to try. The outcome is what the child makes it. There are no mistakes to be made that an adult has to “fix”, only assistance when a child ask for it. The educator is free to discuss interesting points as they happen and unfold during the experience. There is also no failure, children can do this type of experience at their own level, whether they can thread one item or many is irrelevant, the child experiences mostly success.
Now let’s look at beading a bracelet. The same basic skills and knowledge are practiced, so in that way they are the same, however that is where similarity ends. The child does not get to use imagination or creativity; they have already been told…they are beading a bracelet. They have already been told what the end result should look like setting them up for failure. Usually the educator is busy with children holding out their bracelets to be “fixed” rather than discussing and extending anything. Children learn to make things only “as shown” or told and adults will solve the problems. Some children become upset and stressed when theirs doesn’t look like a bracelet, some will give up and many may not attempt it at all because they decide making a bracelet is too difficult for them and they don’t want to fail. In these cases, I have even seen some educators make the item for a child so they have a thing to show parents, proving they did something that day. I find this pointless and rather scary, as the child learns, if they don’t try, things will be done for them anyway, so effort (and learning ) is pointless and meaningless. A child repeatedly exposed to such practices can develop low self-esteem and self worth. When you work for something and succeed (with the support and guidance of those around you) you grow physically, mentally, spiritually and feel fantastic. It is the same for a child. “Don’t take away their success.” (I heard this fantastic quote recently at the Early Childhood Conference in Adelaide from Clare Warden, an Early Years Educator from Scotland. After hearing her speak, I want to go to visit her learning environment. She is one Dynamic Woman!)
Supportive, nurturing educational environments where children can see a world of endless possibilities and are prepared for them, starts with the choices and planning of educators and the learning environments they create. Activities are easier to prepare, just buy a kit, there are many on offer, however product based activities will never give the rich educational experience and learning that an open ended learning experience or play based environment will. That is why learning experiences and play based learning environments have been proven as best practice for children 5 and under. I know which choice I would make for my learning environment and my children…Which choice will you make for yours. Til next time, Rebecca.