When We View Children As “Competent And Capable,” What Does This Really Mean?

It’s funny how a combination of small incidents over the course of a day can make you see the big picture differently. This was the case for me yesterday.

It all started in the morning when we were out in the forest together. I noticed a student call over another child during play. These children don’t interact regularly, so I was curious as to why they were doing so now. I went over to see this group of girls in the trees, and this is what I found out.

It really stuck with me that this was one time when nobody called me over. They knew that even though I may be an adult in the room, I was not the best person for this job. 

This experience also stuck with me for another reason: when I started interacting with the child in the tree, I thought that she was just climbing further up for the sake of just going higher. I forgot about that important line in the Kindergarten Program Document to see children as “competent and capable.” It’s when we see them this way that we view their actions differently and realize that there’s more behind the decisions that they make.

It wasn’t long after this that another child in the group started to climb up in the tree. She didn’t get as high up as the first child, but when she went to climb down, I heard her say to her friends, “I need some help.” These words provided me with quite the challenge. As my teaching partner, Paula, would tell you, at the beginning of the school year, these words would have had me running to the tree, scared about what might happen next, and trying to help the child get out. I resisted the urge to do this for a number of reasons.

  • The child sounded calm. While she requested help, she wasn’t screaming or crying. She was just asking.
  • I knew the child could get down safely. I reminded myself that I’ve seen her climb many times before, and much higher up than she was today. 
  • The child did not ask me for help. While I was standing near the tree and watching the action unfold, she never called my name. She called the name of one of her peers, and this student went over to help her out. 

Listening to the discussion between the child in the tree and her classmate on the ground, I was reminded again about the importance of the belief that students are “competent and capable.” Not once did the child on the ground try to pull down her friend or increase panic. She calmly talked the student through where she could step next. 

  • They spoke about the circumference of the branches and the safest branch to step on.
  • They worked out a plan for the easiest descent, and then made changes to this plan as needed. 
  • She reminded her friend that she was “safe, a good climber, and could get down on her own.” 

As much as I wanted to intervene, I think that I would have actually increased the potential for problems. If I communicated that I was worried, the child in the tree may have also become worried and made less thoughtful choices than she made with her peer. I would have also likely solved the problem for this student. Instead of giving the child a chance to problem solve, realizing her capabilities, and meeting with success, I would have rescued her. It may be hard to always do, but it’s incredible to watch when children can “rescue each other,” and convince their peers that they can actually “save themselves.”

It wasn’t long after this tree incident that we went inside, and then I was challenged once again. Usually Paula runs our morning meeting time, but she was away on Friday, so I ran it. I realized that the children were a little wiggly, chatty, and unfocused, and I thought that a “deep breath” might help. This is something that they do a lot with Paula, and it really seems to help our students calm down. Paula rings a small bell, and the children breathe when they hear this bell. I went to go and do the same thing, and here’s what happened.

As much as I hate to admit it, in the past, I would have been reluctant to accept help from a child. I probably would have argued that the sound was “good enough,” and the children “knew what to do anyway.” I almost considered responding in this way on Friday. But then, I thought again about children being “competent and capable,” and this means that they can often help us along with us helping them. We just have to be open for this help. 

On Friday, I was reminded that …

  • children can support each other well. There is something incredibly beautiful about students seeking each other out for help. 
  • the adult is not always the best authority in the room. 
  • all children can be metacognitive when we give them opportunities to be and have modelled this behaviour since September.
  • there is still more I can do to show children that I view them as “competent and capable.”

I was left wondering how other people communicate their “view of the child” to their students. How do you show children just how “competent and capable” you know that they are? What else could you do? While I realize the importance of this view from a classroom perspective, I also wonder about it from a home perspective. As parents, how do you communicate this important view, and what might this mean about a child’s belief in him/herself? Every day, I’m reminded just how incredible children can be, and I’m forever forced to think about what else I can do to share these views with them.


4 thoughts on “When We View Children As “Competent And Capable,” What Does This Really Mean?

  1. Thank you for sharing your insight and reflection. This has been most helpful. I was introduced to your twitter by my Literacy Coach back two years ago and I had followed your tweets. Now that your blogging will have to keep up with the times.

  2. No I haven’t thought about blogging, I heard about it years ago before I went on sick leave and since then I have been trying to keep up with the times…lol
    But you have given me food for thought and once I get more comfortable with technology. Time will tell.

    • Thanks Yvette. Most blogging platforms are actually very similar to a Word document, especially if you’re not looking to include a lot of photographs or videos. I would love to read your blog posts if you do decide to give it a go. Please let me know if you do.


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