Scaffolding Allows Child to Drive the Learning

Little feet, followed by their partner’s bigger feet, patter into a room where there are many interesting items set within their reach… a box of child friendly percussion instruments in the middle of the Kindermusik room awaits them.  There are a variety of shakers made of plastic, wood, and metal tambourines.  There are instruments with ridges to rub, and there are hollow instruments to tap.  There is so much to explore and learn from these items.   Each child will approach this gift in a different way.

As adult partners in the learning process, we are learning to stand back at first and carefully WATCH how the child begins to interact, so we can understand their interest and their methods for teaching themselves.  This intense observation is the first step of SCAFFOLDING.

The whole process of scaffolding is one of the best ways to teach a child, because it allows the child to direct themselves through the learning process with only the needed minimal support from an adult.  It is not something that is done once, or just in teaching sessions.  It is a different perspective, and becomes a way of life in a family that learns together.

While carefully observing babies and toddlers, the parent provides natural support for the child’s personal way of learning about new things.   (As they get older, the learning partner asks questions so they can verbalize these ideas themselves.)

  • The child feels successful simply when they can see that the parent is watching them.  As you know, they love to be noticed.
  • A parent may describe the shape, size, color and density of the instrument that is being explored, providing the words that match what the child is experiences through their senses.  ”You chose a red egg shaker.  It is hard and smooth.”
  • A parent may describe what the child is doing with the instrument, providing words to match the actions the child is using to learn about the object.  ”You are shaking it up and down with both hands making lots of music!”
  • A parent may handle the same type of instrument, and simply copy what the child is doing.
  • In Kindermusik parents are told they don’t have to copy the child if they are mouthing an object, but recognize that the child IS LEARNING from this experience, so bring on the words, “Oooh, that shaker feels smooth and hard.”

A child spends much of their life in awe of what adults can do, and do their best to copy their actions.  When an adult admires what a child is doing enough to watch them, to talk with them about their experiences, and to copy them, it really builds the confidence of the child.  They don’t have to be told, “Good job”, they feel it inside.    In February, I wrote a whole article on this step:  FIRST Observe – Start where the child is. Once we recognize what a child is interested in, what they know about it already, and how they attempt to learn more, then we are ready to open up the situation for further learning.  When we observe first, we enter the realm of the child, which makes it easier for them to join us in ours.

A child’s explorations are an attempt to answer the main questions they have about every object they come across:

  • What is it?
  • What does it do?
  • What can I do with it?
  • How does it connect with other things?

So, as partners in their learning process, we encourage them to find these answers through further hands-on explorations.  We use simple methods to help them EXPAND their ability to learn from this process.  There are many techniques we can use:

  • With babies, parents may simply start something different, like tapping the eggs together, within eye sight, without saying a word.  The baby is left to notice the new skill, and perhaps attempt the new technique.  Or use adult hands over the child’s hand to try a new action, “tap the shakers together”
  • Once a child is receptive to questions, start open-ended conversations, as simple as “What are different ways to make a sound with that instrument?”  ”Where else can you tap?”  ”How many ways can we ROLL the shakers?”  At this stage, expect only actions, provide the words yourself.
  • Initiate actions to help them explore opposing concepts:  ”Can you make it sound Loud and Quiet?  Fast and Slow?  High and Low?
  • Challenge the child to try it in a way they haven’t tried yet:  ’Can you balance it on your head?’
  • Make connections to a strong feeling of their own, “You’ve got that proud look in your eyes when your arms roll together.”
  • Make connections to something they already know.  ”That fiddle stick is LONG like your drum sticks.”  ”This looks like an egg that I make breakfast with… can we eat it?”

Make sure to continue to reinforce their additional explorations through your attention and verbal dialogue.

Let’s say, one child sees the contents as a challenge, to try them all.  She rushes up to the box, takes out an instrument, shakes it, puts it down and outside the box, then proceeds one by one through each instrument, scattering the instruments around on the floor.   One parent may see it as just a mess, whereas another parent may recognize this child’s learning strategy… to check out ALL the options.

  • Observe:  “You are doing it!  You are shaking each one of the instruments up and down (describe action).  Each one makes a fun different sound, and others don’t make a sound when you shake it.   That one makes a loud wood sound when you tap it with a stick.  That one makes a soft sound when you shake it.  Hmm… that is a bumpy sound. (etc.)
  • Enhance:  A parent may choose to guide the selection process, and make ask questions to see if they are learning the basics, “Is there another one in there that you can shake?”   “How about one you have to tap?”  Which one is loud?  Which one is quiet?

Some children choose a specific instrument and seems interested in exploring it fully.  (That was my son!)

  • Observe:  ”You chose an instrument made of wood and sounds like clackity, clack.” (describe object) “You are making cool sounds by using one hand and then another.” (describe action)  “I can make mine clack, too, just like you.” (Imitate if you have an extra).
  • Enhance :  ”That kind of sounds like a train going down the track – clackity clack, clackity clack.” Then make a train whistle sound.  If they like trains, this adds the strong emotional factor too.    ”How can you make a different sound?”  (giving them time to think)  or more specific “Can you show me three ways to tap these wooden shakers?”

Some children are fascinated by watching, and learn from what they see others do.  At that point, sometimes a parent feels lost as to how to help a child learn this way.  No worries… keep the same tactic by following what they find interesting.

  • Observe:  Determine what your child is watching, and give them the words for what they see.  ”Joey is rolling the rain shakers across the floor to his mom.  That looks like a fun game.”    ”Sandy chose the striped sticks that make sounds when shaken. What a surprise!” The parent may choose to get a set of that instrument and try out what the child has been watching, so they can watch more closely.
  • Enhance:  Parents may try to point out other children who is doing something interesting.  ”Look at Carl rubbing that red guiro, then making it fly like a rocket.”  (making connections)  Only encourage, and only talk about something if they are actively watching it.  If they want to keep watching the same thing, try different ways to talk about it.  If they get really excited about something, it may help to hand them a similar instruments and invite them to play, but keep it light and be open to just watching.

These are many of the scenarios that may be seen in the Village program for babies, or the Our Time program for toddlers and twos.

I’m sure that many families will find they already do many of these ideas, but just didn’t know it was called scaffolding.  I hope this has helped build a new perspective for teaching your child.

Does your child match one of these scenarios?    How do these techniques work for you?   Does your child approach a box of instruments or objects in a different way?   Share your ideas !  Ask your questions !  How can I help this work for you?

One comment

  1. Amy Foltz /

    I always use scaffolding with my kids and they seem to gain confidence when they realize I am following them rather than they follow me. Scaffolding gives a child the chance to take the lead on learning rather than the parent directing it, which I think is wonderful!!

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