As a practitioner, I often come across the misconception that children need to be taught how to play and how to learn.
Uninterrupted play promotes concentration and a long attention span. When we interrupt a child, we also stop what she is doing, whatever process she may be in the middle of, as she focuses on us. Our interruptions, no matter how well intended, become distractions.
The truth is, children don’t need to be taught how to play; in fact, they know far better than we what makes for good play. They also know what they’re ready to learn and what they’re not, and how best to learn it, so leaving room for self discovery and self-directed learning is crucial because it allows children to follow their own agenda and develop at their own pace.
Through play children make sense of the world. They process what has happened to them, practice developing skills, and make new discoveries. Our role as the adult is to ensure that the child feels emotionally secure, has access to a safe, stimulating environment, and plenty of freedom of movement – and then to step back and allow children to explore and experiment, indulging and expanding their curiosities.
Stepping back also gives children space to problem solve; to experience challenges and frustration, and find ways to overcome these. By having a go at solving problems children develop perseverance, tenacity, determination and high self-esteem. They learn how to learn, and how to overcome the struggles and failures that are an inevitable part of learning.
Time for uninterrupted play is important for all children, including - and especially - babies. So much development and growth happens during infancy, and it's a common misconception that we need to make that happen; that we need to provide lots of stimulation and show babies how everything works. But babies need time to themselves as much as anyone else does; to explore the world around them in their own way, and to tune in to all the goings on in their internal world.
It is a beautiful thing to see a baby deeply engrossed in self-directed play, and when we step back and quietly observe, rather than try and teach or direct, our eyes are opened to just how much they can do themselves, and how truly competent they are.
If I can reassure you of one thing, it is this; getting out of the way is often the best thing we can do for a young child.
And Emmi Pikler said:
What is most important…is not the result, but the way to it. This learning process will play a major role in the whole later life of the human being. Through this kind of development, the infant learns his ability to so something independently, through patient and persistent effort