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Go Away Pinterest! Let the Children be Free to Learn!

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I had a spare moment the other day while the girls were sleeping, and I had that feeling, like, “I should be doing more with the kids…”  

So, I went onto Pinterest, mother hoard of all craft ideas big and small, and typed in ‘Toddler Craft‘.  Wooweee… how many ‘pins‘ do you think I found for that one?  I then had this bizarre and impossible daydream of how many days, weeks months, years or decades it would take me to do every single toddler craft listed on Pinterest, but anyway…

Now, before you think I’m knocking on Pinterest, I’m not.  Pinterest is actually pretty cool and I have taken a few ideas from there before and I even (scoff) have an account that gives me a lot of views on my blog.  But, over the past year or so, I’ve been steering more and more away from giving my kids set activities, like the ones on Pinterest and here’s why.

Set activities sometimes start and end like this:

1. First show child what end product *should* look like

2. Give child materials to create end product

3. Instruct child how to get to end product and fix and help them and modify the task enormously to help them get to the desired ‘end product’.  

4. Child looses interested before end product is completed because the task has lost all intrinsic meaning to them.

5. Child looses enthusiasm and doesn’t want to ‘mess up’ the next activity that they can’t do perfectly, so they mope around and ask you to do it for them.

6. Parent gets frustrated that the activity only lasted two minutes and now they have a big mess to clean up.

Of course, this doesn’t always happen… but it certainly can!

I’m a high school science teacher by profession.  One of the most common things I came across while I was teaching my high school science students, were kids who were constantly questioning their capabilities.  ‘Is this right, Miss?’ or ‘Miss, I don’t know how to do this, can you show me?’ or ‘I’m stupid, ask anyone, I can’t do it.’  They were so afraid to make a mistake on their work, their fear was nearly crippling their capability to learn anything at all!

How does a teenager have such a limited sense of what they can accomplish?  Well, Pinterest didn’t exist when they were little, but maybe they had an adult in their life who was afraid to allow them to make mistake?  To be honest, it can be really hard to sit back and let a kid make mistakes.  You WANT them to succeed and do it the ‘right’ way.  But are you interferring with their creativity process when you butt in and say, ‘Here let me show you how…

Young children don’t NEED you to point things out for them.  They will ASK you if they want to know.  They will ABSORB any information that they deem important and they will absorb it at a time that it is absorbable for them.  I’m not saying that you should never show them something or that they don’t need teachers, etc.   But, just know that you are only a facilitator for learning.  You can provide them with opportunities, but don’t expect that they will catch on to the one thing that you were hoping they would learn.  With older kids it’s a little bit different, but for the little ones, we just need to let them be!

It’s sometimes so hard for me to watch my 3 1/2 year old learn something new.  In my head, I just want to grab whatever she’s doing out of her hands and ‘make it perfect’.  But, I don’t dare.  Today, we were doing some Halloween craft that was failing miserably (failing in my adult mind).  The glue wasn’t sticking, and the pom poms were coming apart.  I could have easily grabbed what she was doing and told her not to touch it so that I could ‘do it right’.  But, what would ME, myself, making a perfect Halloween witch from pom poms, felt and string have taught her? That she can’t do it?  That her effort is a waste?  I’ve butted in before to try and help and seen the instant ‘I’m hopeless and I can’t do it‘ look on her face.  SHE didn’t care that it wasn’t working, she was having fun playing with glue, scissors, string and pom poms.

It’s not to say that I will never correct her and that we should swaddle a child’s feelings in cotton wool.  But, she’s THREE AND A HALF!  The things that she needs to be learning right now are life lessons, not how to do craft perfectly.  She needs to learn that it’s ok to make a mistake.  It’s ok to be creative.  It’s ok to be silly and fun.  It’s ok to mess up your ‘final product‘.  I mean, if she asks me or gets very frustrated, I would certainly show her.  But, at 3 1/2, when she’s full of enthusiasm and excitement for learning, I don’t want to interfere.

So, I’ve decided, from now on, I do plenty with my kids.  I don’t care about craft ideas and making sure that my kids are ‘doing things‘.  If I want them to learn something, I just open the cupboard.  I go for walks  I let them dump all the clothes out of the dressers and use the drawers as cots for their babies.  I don’t entertain my kids.  We don’t have TV, they don’t play on the iphone (although, they could if they wanted to).  They do have toys, but do you know what they play with the most?!  Tupperware, old baby clothes, my wallet, my keys, boxes, baskets and shoes.  Every parent knows that the kids always play with the box that with the toy that came in it.

There is a fine art to allowing a child to learn through play.  My kids following me around the house all day while we cook, clean and do chores.  They are learning through the rhythm of daily life in more ways than I can imagine.  So, a reminder to all (myself included) let the kids play!  The only tricky part is getting our old stuffy adult views to step out of the way.  Pinterest is cool… and I mean, DO the crafty stuff, but can we do without any expectations?

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7 Responses »

  1. Very good post. Ready made ideas for kids entertainment are like junk food, filling but not nourishing in the long term for the brain. No two days are same, so if they use the movement and chores in a day as the learning tool, will have enriched and unique learning, and less likely to be ‘brick in the wall’ ( Floyd).

    Reply
    • That is the best comment ever! I love that! ‘Junk food for the brain’. I was feeling a bit sinister after writing this post… was hoping people would get what I was saying 🙂

      Reply
  2. Love this post and love the comment from abhi.
    Everybody always talks about the importance of unstructured play. But it seems very few people actually understand the concept of “unstructured”. Many people pay lip service to it but don’t actually allow for any of it.
    It’s totally ok to have some set activities. But be supportive if your child takes the activity into a different realm that you hadn’t even considered.
    I think the big underlying problem is that we have this weird need to “be busy” at all times. Standing still is regarded as being lazy. So we project this onto our children. They need to be kept busy and entertained so that they will learn the things that WE want them to learn. We don’t actually believe in intrinsic motivation, we don’t believe in children really wanting to learn. We feel we need to MAKE them learn.
    sorry for the ramblings, I hope I made sense…

    Reply
    • Don’t at all feel bad about your post Kate. I can vouch for the importance of “unique” learning through self play-experience since I have been a neural networks student and have studied quite a bit of it (m a comp science engg). Brain is best neural network on earth and it needs new challenges every day to ” sharpen” its “problem solving calculations”. Most important,it can achieve brilliance in this task with ” trial and error” and not by” training”.

      Reply
    • That all made perfect sense, Alex! I think, you, of all people who perfectly understand right now that there is a power to letting kids just ‘go with the flow’, especially at such a young age 🙂 You can offer structure and allow for unstructure at the same time, right?

      Reply
  3. Too much direction results in canals which transport the fluid but lack the life and greatness of rivers. The most difficult part of nurturing is to help our little rivers build the capability to decide which mountain to cut through and which one to encircle instead of ” taking that decision for them”. Ironically, only attachment parenting gives you the strength to perform this ” detached” nurturing.

    Reply
    • It is so true how only attachment can allow you really let loose with your kids! I’m a high school science teacher and have seen first hand that when kids have to make up their own experiments, many struggle considerably, even with pretty rigid ‘scaffolding’ to their activity. They really have issues with trusting their brain!

      Reply

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