Dana Winters records a an early childhood educator as part of the Simple Interactions process

The Simple Human Interactions That Make Learning Possible (Part Two)

This post is the second of a three-part series on the simple human interactions that make learning possible. The series is co-authored by Junlei Li, Kelly Martin, and Kalani Palmer. Click here to read part one.

Part Two: People Who Help Us Try

Saturday Crafternoons at Assemble

What makes us try new things, especially when new things do not come easily? What makes us stick with challenges when we can see that others appear better and faster?

Persistence, or grit, or stick-to-it-ness develops in us through enriching interactions with those near us, especially when we are trying, failing, and struggling. Fred Rogers often talked about the importance of grown-ups in helping children develop effort and persistence:

Above all, I think that the willingness and the courage to keep on trying develops best if there is someone close by who can lend us some of the strength we do not yet have within ourselves.

I don’t mean someone who will do a task for us, but rather someone who will share our times of trying just by being around and being supportive, someone who can sustain the belief that we can succeed even when we doubt it ourselves. We all need quiet, caring cheerleaders like that — grown-ups as well as children.

In many Remake Learning settings, grown-ups often spend time with children in the process of “making.” With their curious, gentle, engaging, and quiet presence, these grown-up makers can create wonderful opportunities for learning.

On Saturday “crafternoons,” children can work with volunteer makers at Assemble on a range of activities. On this particular afternoon, the project was to create a customized “zine” using recycled magazines, paper, scissors, and glue. The potential for creativity and challenge is just as ripe with these simple materials as with fancier technological gadgets.

In the video excerpt, two sisters came in during a less-crowded period. Both curious, the older sibling was eager to get her hands on the papers while the younger one seemed more reserved and intimidated. Here is a five-minute video capturing their “making” process.

We can observe how the staff briefly explained what could be made from the papers and used magazines. Together, the adults and children worked through building the structure of the “zine,” which allowed the children to create and add themes and subjects. The interactions between the grown-up makers and the children created a natural, intuitive balance between offering help and being quietly present. To help children make progress, the adults were carefully and continuously observing and deciding what to say and what not to say, when to help and when to hold back. Achieving progression in this way was intentional and inherent within the program’s goal, as the program coordinator, Jess Gold, explained:

“We try to provide instruction in a way that makes them feel confident and empowered, and give them the opportunity to take control of what they’re doing in a way that speaks to them. They might not even realize they’re learning something because it’s such a natural, fun process.”

This is distinct from activities where children are simply handed glitter glue and stickers and make whatever they like, or where children unpack pre-drawn or prefabricated craft packages to create preconceived products. Most importantly, the grown-ups were there–if even for just a few minutes–to offer help when it was warranted, and to be attentive and available when the child developed the confidence to take over.

What did the children walk away with besides a “zine”? As the older sister put it:

“I would like to work hard, so I just ask her to show me, and then I just do it, and try to work to figure it out … until I figure it out.”

They will remember that they tried something that was not easy. They knew they needed help, but they will also know that they owned the making process. For children, these opportunities to grow with the guidance of adults become important developmental experiences that build them up from the inside. The support, the encouragement for independence, and the attentive presence of grown-ups are essential elements of such experiences.

Sponsors and Partners

This three-part series is supported by the Sprout Fund, the Grable Foundation, and the R.K. Mellon Foundation, and conducted with partnerships among the Fred Rogers CenterSprout Fund, and University of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development.