Let Me Help You – or Not

This summer I have two distinct groups of children.  Half my group is very young – infants and toddlers – eager to explore and learn but just beginning to master some basic skills.  The rest of the children are school-age – they usually prefer group activities but often become impatient when they think the pace is too slow.

The older children always seem so confused when they go to help one of the little ones and I say “No, don’t”.  Yes, I think it is absolutely wonderful that they want to offer assistance but often what they are doing is actually not helping.

Yes, sometimes the little ones do seem frustrated when they are trying to do something but that doesn’t mean they need help.  They are trying and retrying and eventually they will do it.  Maybe it won’t happen today, tomorrow or even next week but they are still trying.  If you do it for them you are taking away their opportunity to learn.

Yes, sometimes they even ask you to help them — that also doesn’t mean they need help.  They have learned that you can do it faster/better than they can and you might be willing to do it for them so they don’t have to do the work.  They know how to do it but they still need to practice before they are able to do it well.  You can assist by encouraging them to do it — cheer them on and celebrate their success.

Yes, I know she wants to climb up there but she can’t quite reach.  If you help her up there how is she going to get down?  Even when she does learn to climb up by herself she will still also need to learn to get down.  Right now she’s not ready for either one.  Holding her hand while she tries to climb actually makes it harder for her – it puts her balance off center and makes her footing unstable.

We’re halfway through the summer and I think they’re finally beginning to understand.  The older ones are learning to pause and observe — to assess the situation to determine if assistance is really necessary.  They’re learning that not helping is hard but sometimes it is the most helpful thing they can do.

What do you think?

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