We have discussed the idea of active participant versus passive recipient before. We have talked about involving the child in care giving activities. Janet Lansbury has written beautifully on the subject here as she details a diaper change that touched her heart so much she cried. Active participation is a wonderful and respectful way to engage with children, but it is also much more than that. Active participation builds intrinsic motivation. It helps the child become an advocate for themselves. It helps them to develop their authentic self.
When we as caregivers simply tell the children what we are going to do, we discourage their participation in what's happening. In a scenario where a child is a passive recipient, motivation is extrinsic. The child has things done for them or does things for the pleasure of the adult. They are expected to "obey" or to be "in line" with the adults expectations. In short, the child's goals are supposed to somehow align with the adult's goals. There are times that we may need to instruct on the next thing, but we can still do so in a way that encourages a child's participation and gives them a voice in what's happening to them.
Second, active participation encourages self advocacy. When a child is noticed, listened to, and seen they learn to speak up for themselves. They learn to say no or to express their emotions and opinions. They learn the mysterious art of compromise and start to test limits- not only limits of other people but their own limits, too. This is an important distinction for me. One common thing in our classroom lately is banging our small alphabet blocks on each other. Child A approaches Child B and taps them with the alphabet block. Child B pays little attention to Child A, so Child A taps them again. Child B looks up at Child A with a puzzled expression and I say, "Child B, I wonder if it works for you when Child A taps you with that block...". I try to not express any frustration or concern in my voice and allow Child B to decide for themselves what works and doesn't work instead of taking my cue. Child B nods yes and Child A taps them with the block again, only a little harder this time. Child A continues to tap Child B until they shake their head no, walk away, or make some other indication that it's not working for them. I might then add "I see Child B walking away/saying no. That tells me that Child B does not want to be hit with a block." Child A typically listens to Child B's wishes and moves on to the next thing. This common interaction reminds me that active participation allows children to test themselves, too. Through actively participating in what's happening they are able to learn their own limits and what works or doesn't work for themselves as well as for other people. This is the beginning of self advocacy and it's so exciting to watch it build everyday in my classroom!
The block interaction also highlights another great benefit of active participation: emotional intelligence. Child A begins to build emotional intelligence when they learn that Child B does not want to be hit with the block AND then respect the wishes of Child B. They are able to build on their ability to comprehend the reactions of people around them. By watching Child B's display of emotions and opinions, Child A is also building on their own awareness of self and emotions. Maybe they don't respect Child B's decision to walk away and follow Child B. They tap Child B again with the block to see what happens or because they feel really strongly about tapping the block. Child B lets them know again, with more force this time, that they do not want to be tapped. Perhaps Child B shakes their head vehemently or takes the block from Child A. All of this helps Child A to become more aware of Child B's need to not be tapped, their need to tap or test that limit, and requires them to work to compromise their need with Child B's needs. This is big, big work in the field of emotional intelligence!
There is a lot more behind active participation, though, which will have to be saved for part two of RIE principle #5! Look for a post centering around how active participation plays a role in building intrinsic motivation and meeting the innate needs of individuals!