Have you heard the term child directed? All it means is that the kids take the lead. It’s one of the most important terms an educator (or parent) can become comfortable with. Kids (and adults) learn best when they are motivated by curiosity, passion, excitement or a combination of all three. That is why child directed learning is so powerful. When your little one WANTS to learn something, they are far more likely to soak up every aspect of the experience than if you are teaching them something they are not interested in.
Although there are many teachers who have this skill mastered, we as parents have a benefit they don’t have. Our learning can be far less structured. We are trying to reach only a couple of kids at a time, not an entire class. So when an opportunity arises we can focus on exactly what our kids are seeking, expand on the questions they ask and bring in all different skills… if we know how.
Yesterday morning M and M were chatting with each other about the candles on the table while I made breakfast. (They are quite obsessed with the candles since Christmas is really the only time of year we have them out.) I listened for a while. Then came the observation that started our simple science project.
“The cups are less full then they were last night.” Hmmm. Very true. I asked a few questions about what they remembered from the night before.
(Child directed note: Sometimes by asking questions you can find out what is really interesting your kids about a certain topic. It will make assisting in the learning process easier. Try to keep the questions open ended. Also don’t answer their questions right away. Instead guide them into a hands on experience. “Hmmm. That’s a great question! How could we test it?”)
Their curiosity had leaned toward the candle wax. What happens to the wax when it’s heated? What happens when it cools? I pulled out three tea lights, M and M grabbed paper and pencils. (We are experienced scientists around here, they know how important recording your process is. )
(Child directed note: Simplicity is key. If there is a way to bring an experience to life right when the curiosity has been sparked, that’s best. If you keep it simple, it’s much easier to make it quick. If you know you will need time to prepare, try not to wait too long. Kids move on to the next thing at rapid speeds!)
We left the candles to burn while we worked on other projects, checking on them from time to time. We talked a lot about how the wax was changing. What they thought would happen from that point on and how long it had been between each check.
(Child directed note: Use the same ideas and methods you are comfortable with. Some things can be tweaked a bit to make them work for multiple ideas. Like our simple science experiment for instance. We can follow the same method and I can ask almost the same questions for many different science experiments. There is no need to make learning fancy. It’s the learning that is exciting… and the easier it is for you the more likely you are to make it happen!)
Once the wax had completely transformed into liquid we blew out the candles and watched.
We could have continued the experiment, but the kids were done. I would have loved to see exactly how long it took the wax to be completely liquid and then completely solid again, but they were done. So we packed up the candles and moved on.
(Child directed note: Pay attention to the kids through out the experience. Their interest may change course or they may lose interest all together. It can be very easy to want to stick with something you’ve started… trust me I know! But once their minds have moved onto something else, you might as well too. Of course if you are enjoying it, finish it up on your own… the kids may join you if they see how much fun you’re having!)
Is child directed a new term for you? Ask any questions you have in the comments.