The beauty of scaffolding a child’s learning through play, is that often even the littlest moments can make the biggest impressions and growth. In this next ‘Let the Child Lead’ adventure, Master B has a ‘light bulb’ moment with his train set, with a small amount of time and facilitation on my part.
Playing with trains is one of life’s greatest passions for our little 3 1/2 year old! He loves linking up the carriages and rolling them around the tracks, and enjoys creating fun scenarios, complete with train character names, destinations, crashes, and fix ups.
For many, many months, though, he has only preferred to link up the train track pieces ‘to a point’ independently. Invariably, it has usually only been a matter of moments between: “I want to play trains!” and “Can you help me make the train road?” … Ahhh, I know he can do it himself, but those crazy bridges keep collapsing! …“Mama!!! … Help!!!”…
Following a child’s lead ensures their interest, attention, and therefore – learning capacity. It was B’s idea to play trains. It was at his invitation that I entered his play space. It was his plan to build a long bridge.
In order to scaffold a child’s learning, the first step is to establish where they are currently at. B had previously watched us construct plenty of different, simple to complex, train track combinations, so I knew he had a reference of track building possibilities. He could also identify and place the track bits in the correct orientation so they could connect, but attempts to make ‘long bridges’ kept falling down, leading to grunts of frustration and anger at the track pieces themselves. Bingo! – here’s where he was getting stuck! …Or was it? … perhaps he could get a bit closer to an answer himself …
So I sat with him, extending another part of the track a little. Watching. Quietly. Waiting.
How quick and easy it would be for me to just jump right on in and fix a long bridge?! … but holding onto that impulse – without splurting out a solution.. I could almost see the ‘cogs’ turning … oh sweet problem solving at work! His frustrations were slightly reduced with me just being there – possibly giving him a bit more comfort to keep trying. I needed to wait too, so that I could really see where he was struggling.
He knew it needed support. “Great idea B! Something underneath the track!”
But 4 support pieces on one end only meant the track just tipped off, a couple of times…
“You’ve got lots under this part of the track… what if …?” …and I very slowly moved just one piece along to the other side of the suspended bridge, giving him more thinking time.
“YES!!!” he shouted, and quickly hopped in to move a second piece to the other side of the bridge.
Rather than me simply congratulating him on fixing the bridge (‘problem solved’) and just leaving him to continue playing, I suggested “Hey! Wait! How do you know if it is going to work? You need to test it out!”
Excitedly, he grabbed the nearest train – (actually, a replica old Melbourne tram!) and rolled it across…
“I did it, Mama!” The pride on his face was priceless.
“Yes you did! Now you know how to make long bridges! How great!”
So simple. Such little input. So effective. He did actually do (most of) it!
Of course, just to check that the learning would be carried over to future difficulties with bridge making… I was sure to keep one eye on our little train enthusiast over the coming days. Sure enough, he was fixing bridges – crashing them too – and fixing them again – all over the place!
If you enjoyed this post, you may like to also check out another in the Let the Child Lead series: Two Boys, One Football and a Shiny Red Bike!
Thanks so much for reading – child-led play-based learning is a great passion of mine.