Sunday, 15 June 2014

The Competent child... inspiration from Alison Gopnik

Last week I watched the TED talk by Alison Gopnik about What do babies think (you can see that here)... and while I am not so keen on the fact that she calling children babies that I would consider toddlers/young children there is so much information, so much inspiration and so much that has clicked with my thinking about the competent child...

Those of you that follow me, will realised that I have been struggling with what is a competent child... and this TED talk has helped me see a new perspective... as well as talking with Sara and Nadia who are staying with me at the moment...

When we refer to children being competent, are we really thinking about them as competent children, or are we actually putting adult expectations on them... after all a competent adult is very different from a competent child... or is it? An incompetent adult is one that is not capable of making their own decisions... is this not something that children have problems with... because they do not have enough experience they have not learned enough about the consequences of their actions.
My dad used to say that the older you get the further you see... and I guess to get the balance right in life you need to be able to see further, to see the consequences, but you should not forget to see what is close up to... the now. Sometimes I think that adults can have a tendency to forget to think of now, to forget to think as children... and focus too much att looking far down the road and all the possible things that go wrong... do we really want children to be learning this skill at an ever younger age? Don't we want them to keep their sense of play, their sense of living now, their sense of not fully appreciating the consequences in their actions (and being able to trust in the adults around them to do that for them) - so that they can take risks, they take chances, they are not afraid of making mistakes... something I think cripples adults and prevents them from trying out new things...

Alison Gopnik talked about birds - comparing crows and hens and the length of childhood with the size/capacity of brains/intelligence... and that the longer the childhood the more intelligent the animal (this apparently occuring across the animal world).
This got me really thinking...
Why are we then in such a hurry to make children "competent" - when often the competent means doing adult things... scraping plates, putting on own clothes etc etc etc... to the extent that we are working hard to enable the children to be independant and competent... are we, possibly, taking away play opportunities from the children? Are we then actually taking away children's real learning - play - because we want them to be competent? Shouldn't we be serving them for as long as possible to allow these YOUNG children to PLAY as much as possible?

If children want to dress themselves, want to serve themselves, want to scrape their plate, then yes, we should be encouring this... but, should we be making them do this? After all Alison Gopnik talks about children's learning in a totally different way from us as adults... that we as adults can focus and close off what we do not need... whilst children, Alison compared to being like in love in a new city after three espressos...
When Sara and Nadia arrived in Stockholm yesterday for the first time it was very noticeable how they were seeing, feeling and absorbing everything around them - everything that is new, trying to sort out what everything was, what was important, what was not... for me that had walked that way so many times I could shut out so much of what they were experiencing and focus on where we were going.
If we are in a hurry to get children to focus, to be "competent" - are we then stripping them of their way of learning? Of their way of being able to make sense of the world and deciding themselves what is important and what needs to be focused on... are we stripping their potential to be creative? Are we creating competent children at the cost of allowing creative children?... can we allow the children to become competent in their own time... understanding that they are competent in their own learning - but maybe not on the timescale that is always expected of them...

and we return to TIME again. We need to give children TIME.

I am so full of questions...

I am still searching...

To understand what we mean by competent. To understand what this looks like in childhood. To work out how I can support that to the best of my ability...

1 comment:

  1. I have been reflecting on this some more… and after re-reading I feel that children ARE competent in their own way… but that we as adults are misinterpreting what competent is… that we should be trusting the children more in their play and learning… to experience… and that we should be guiding, modelling, encouraging them to try new things, encouraging them when it does not work the first time… allow them to make mistakes for themselves to learn from - so that they get used to the frustrations of mistakes but not give up… that making a mistake is not something wrong, but a natural part of learning…

    I don't want to be making mini-adults… how will I learn from the children is they are required to behave in a certain way… how can I learn to see through children's eyes if we are only giving them one view of life - an adult view?

    No, I am not finished with exploring what is competent - I am beginning to understand more about what I mean… but how is that working in the great scheme of things? How do I know what others really mean when using the word "competent"?

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