Two children are playing in the kitchen corner. They are stacking cups and other items up so very tall. One other child is laying on the floor beneath them. As the educator you can perceive a problem - the cups may fall on the child on the floor. So what do you do?
Do you call out, "Please watch out for friends!"? Do you walk over and hope to call attention just with your proximity? Do you do nothing and observe what happens, knowing the contact from the plastic toys would not be harmful? In a situation like this I sometimes wonder what is really the problem and what is the perceived problem? Am I jumping ahead with my own assumptions and not allowing the children to be capable, mighty learners? If I stop and give them a chance would one of the children say, "Oh you should move"? to the child on the floor? Would I have stopped an opportunity for learning, growth and connection by stepping in where it was not needed?
We started exploring this by stopping to serve the children meals. By this I mean, have them seated and we deliver the food to them. Instead we serve the plates and have the children come ask for their food using their manners and carry it to the table themselves. This small step took some thinking. "What if they spill? What if they drop their drink? What kinds of messes could they make?" All of these perceived problems. We had not even tried to see what the children could do before thinking what could be a problem. We thought it trough - If they spill they will have the opportunity to learn to clean it up. Is that so terrible? No.
The children were amazing! They were so excited to be doing something for themselves they even told other teachers who came into the room that they got to serve lunch for themselves. There was not one mention of spilling, although we did have a spill or two, the focus was on that they got to help themselves. If we had stopped them based upon our perceived problems we would have denied them the chance to learn what they could do.
The other day we had another cleaning task added to our already numerous covid cleaning tasks at meal time - we were now asked to wash off our dishes before they go to the kitchen. It is such a busy time for us, this transition from lunch to getting ready to go outside we were feeling like we had no time to do this. After some quick thinking we asked each other, "How can the children do this themselves?" I set up a washing station and let the children scrape their plates and rinse them before putting them in the kitchen bin. Again they were excited! "I can wash my plate too!" called out several children. What did we perceive the problems to be? That water would get on the floor, that it would take too long for the children to do this. That some people may not like the "chore" aspect of the activity.
The children were so proud of their washing task. They talked about it all afternoon. The next day when lunch came around the asked, "Can we wash today?". Did it take longer than the educators washing the plates - of course. Did that matter? No. The confidence and practical life skills developed by seeing the children as capable and able to care for themselves far outweighs the extra ten minutes it took to clean up from lunch.
Had we bowed to our perceived problems we may not have let the children explore this activity or seen the value in the children learning to take care of themselves and their environment. The next time you are thinking about an activity with children ask yourself, "Am I considering problems or perceived problems?" Am I deciding before something happens what the outcome would be or am I seeing the children as capable and mighty learners who can solve problems?