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Teach EYFS Article - Responsibility

Here is another in my series of articles based on conversations with children, first published in Teach Early Years magazine. In each piece, I focus on one prominent theme. For this one, it’s RESPONSIBILITY. My thanks to editor Michelle Tempest for allowing reproduction, and if you want to know more - details of this and their other magazines and resources are available at:

 - What annoys you about how adults speak to you?

 - When they don’t believe I can do it myself.                       (G-female)

I worked with this little girl for a couple of years and loved her determined spirit. I’m sure you’ve come across similar children who have a fiercely independent spirit, which on a good day can help them achieve beyond expectations and on a bad one, bubble over into bossiness and tantrum. I’ve always sympathised with these personalities. I can well remember the frustration of being made to hold my mother’s hand when I thought I was perfectly capable of walking alone. You probably have similar memories.

Despite these recollections, it’s difficult to fully remember just how lacking in agency a young child’s life can be. Every time they are able to complete a task successfully, unaided, it builds their confidence in their own ability to learn and it does so exponentially. We can be aware of the larger examples that happen in our classrooms, but there are smaller, less visible gains that are harder to identify and acknowledge.

When a child listens to a story they have heard before, or watches a favourite video, or joins in with a sing-song and demands that it be repeated over and over again, it’s not just that they love it, they are constantly making predictions about what will happen next. Then, if they have remembered correctly, those predictions come true and reassure the child that they are able to learn. It’s fascinating to note precisely when a child feels confident enough to ask to do something for his or her self. How many times did they have to do it with help in the lead up to this request?

It can place us in a difficult position if the child is more convinced of their abilities than we are - especially if there is risk involved. We don’t want them to endanger themselves, and we also don’t want them to set themselves up for failure. However failure is a great teacher. No-one acquires faith in themselves and their own abilities without having fallen flat on their face a few times, and they’ll always have us to pick them up, brush them off and bolster them for another try.

Children love to be given some responsibility, to hold a little power - if only for a short time and in a fairly inconsequential circumstance. They are hard-wired to test themselves out. They love to recognise themselves as the cause that makes the effect and every time we believe they can succeed, they have a chance to prove it. Developmentally, children need opportunities to experiment with their own proficiency in the physical world.

Whether it’s something they have tried before, or if they are launching themselves bravely into the unknown reaches of their abilities, I do try to give children the chance to do it themselves. If they triumph, marvellous, and if they don’t it’s beneficial for them to practice asking for help - goodness knows many of us could get a little better at that. 

And is there any greater joy than witnessing the moment when a child accomplishes something they weren’t entirely sure they were capable of?

So let’s take a hint from G and make an effort to believe them when they say they no longer need our help. It doesn’t make us redundant, it makes us successful teachers.

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