Friday, June 5, 2015

Space to Fail

This week I've been reading Christine Chaillé and Lory Britain's The Young Child as Scientist, which explores the teacher's role in facilitating early childhood science education based on the constructivist approach.  The constructivist perspective views children as theory builders and creators of knowledge as they engage with their surroundings, always seeking to test what they know about the world and pushing the boundaries of what is possible.  In contrast to a behaviorist perspective, which views children as vessels waiting to have knowledge transmitted to them by adults, the constructivist approach argues that children themselves construct knowledge through interaction with their environment, peers, and adult mentors.  This notion resonates strongly with the work of the teachers at Tumbleweed, who work to acknowledge, encourage, and document the theories children are testing everyday, whether the children are explaining their theories verbally or not.

I appreciated this quotation on the importance of failure:

"The process of theory building is full of error, conflict, and contradiction.  It has to be!  So in addition to an environment filled with many materials and access to ways of experimenting with inclines and objects, and in addition to the child's confidence and flexibility, there must be acknowledgment of the role of conflict, contradiction, and "error" as necessary components of the theory-building process."

Providing space to fail is crucial for the development of increasingly complex theories, the work that children take so much pleasure in everyday.  This means stepping back, offering open-ended materials, and providing space for children to take risks and return to work over time.

We can remember that the theory building children are doing is not limited to the materials they experiment with but also includes navigating relationships, expressing themselves, and engaging in self-care activities like eating and getting dressed.

When we allow children space to fail, we send a powerful message:  

You can make choices for yourself.
There is plenty of space and time for you to try things again and again.
We believe you are capable of assessing/taking risks and problem-solving independently.
We are here for you!  We can provide comfort & encouragement, and facilitate the kinds of learning you are most fascinated by.
Failure will always be acknowledged, accepted, celebrated.

And perhaps most importantly...

You are a whole being, with many things to teach yourself and everyone around you.

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