I love helping children, or shall I say, I love supporting children in learning a skill. Being an occupational therapist, I appreciate watching children learn new skills, which allow them to have a sense of independence in their lives and the tasks they choose to engage in. For example, think of a child in preschool opening a yogurt container. I enjoy watching the struggle and then the success of them opening the container. Sometimes the child squeezes the container and it erupts into a volcano of yogurt, but the child has success and the yogurt is out. In the end, there is that sweet look of success and accomplishment. This week I’m addressing supportive teaching versus teaching by doing. I also want to introduce the phrase “just-right assistance” to you. Allow me to demonstrate a common scenario: a child is struggling with a task like putting on their coat. I will say, “do you need help”? They then respond with an enthusiastic “yes”. So I put the hood on their head, yet, they’re standing with their arms out, wanting me to put their coat on them. I say these next words a lot in my job, “I’m not going to do this for you, I’m going to help you learn how to do this”. At this point I say “reach back and find the arm holes.” Then I watch them spin and bend and try. This is the time to stay strong and use your voice in encouraging and cheering them on, but keep your hands behind your back. Allow them the struggle, it’s the true magic of learning.
Remember when you wanted to learn that golf swing or dance step? Recall that struggle you went through to finally get it right and how incredible that aha moment was? That’s what your student/child is striving for. You can come and assist, but just apply just enough help, (the “just-right” amount of assistance) by holding the coat, so the sleeve hole is closer to the front of their body, but don’t steer the sleeve hole onto their arm, let them find it. Let them feel the achievement, and be proud that you feel the achievement of supporting versus doing.