Let Them Do It!

The other day, I had an epiphany: we really don’t solve problems for our kids. This is new for me. The amount of independence that we build and support in our Kindergarten children at times amazes me. It’s beyond what I’ve done before, and it’s because of my amazing teaching partner, Paula, that our students have gotten to the point that they’re at now. Let me explain.

My epiphany started on Friday morning, when a child came up to us in the forest. Another child was accidentally poked with a stick in the nose, and his nostril was bleeding slightly. The child that was hurt seemed fine, and he slowly came up behind the student that came to tell us about the problem. Paula looked at his nostril, and before she could say or do anything, the girl who approached us said, “I have Kleenex in my pocket. Look: a package!” She then took one out and gave it to her friend. He wiped off his nose, and used a second one just to be sure that all of the blood was gone. The two students then went back to play together. No tears. No additional intervention from us. Problem solved.

Fast forward then to the couple of times that students had to get dressed and undressed for the cold, outdoor weather. It looks as though winter has arrived in Ontario. Trying to get 27 three-, four-, and five-year-olds packed up for home and into snowsuits can be stressful at the best of times, but not if your partner is Paula. Then it’s much calmer. We don’t do the dressing for the students. 

  • Will we talk through problems with them? Yes.
  • Will we suggest friends that can support them? Yes.
  • Will we ensure that there is enough space and time to get ready? Yes.

But with the exception of three zippers that I did up on Friday, I didn’t touch another snowsuit, coat, or pair of boots. I calmly listened to Paula sing, “Who’s going to be ready? Nobody knows but me!,” on repeat. There’s something incredibly soothing about this song … at least for me. And then I watched the children attack the dressing problem.

I had to remind a few students about items left behind, and one child forgot to put on her snow pants and had to start again, but she still managed to do it. A couple of children took longer to finish, and while I’m sure that I could have intervened and sped up the process, I didn’t. Neither did Paula. Even as the other children left with their parents and one child was still getting dressed, I stood at the door and tried to talk him through the rest of the process.

  • Was it stressful? A bit …
  • Was I tempted to intervene? Yes.

But even with dad waiting at the fence, and then slowly making his way into the Kindergarten playground area, I stopped myself from getting this child dressed. For you see, there’s something to be said for independence and problem solving. There’s something to be said for accomplishing a task, even when it’s really hard to do … and for Kindergarten students, getting dressed in snowsuits is a really hard thing to do. So just like Paula, I ask questions, I use visuals, I sing the steps, but I don’t solve problems for the child. 

  • At times, this means that a child goes home without an item.
  • At times, this means that dressing takes longer than usual.
  • At times, this means that we may be delayed in going outside.

But this also means that children leave at the end of the day feeling “competent and capable,” just as our Kindergarten Program Document emphasizes. I think that the value of this feeling outweighs a few misplaced items and additional time. 

I can’t help but think about the times that I’ve heard educators say, “My Grade ____’s can’t solve problems. I need to help them with everything.” I think that I was one of these educators before. But now I wonder if I created these problems. 

  • Did I let the child struggle?
  • Did I give the child time to meet with success?
  • Did I use questions and other prompts to help the child through the problem solving process?

Maybe with our best of intentions to help children, we actually create the problems that we later lament. I think that I needed Paula to help me see the value in the struggle and the benefit of letting kids be independent … even when it can be a frustrating experience for us. I’ve began to wonder, do we intervene because this is what kids need or what we need? What’s the value in the learning that comes from the little, daily struggles and forgotten items along the way? Our Kindergarten children are reminding me just how independent ALL kids can be!



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