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As a father and one of your child's protectors, parents, guardians or whomever you are, you will probably lead the way, show them the “right” way to do things and make sure they don't come to any serious mishaps along the way.  Right?   But what about what and when they want to do something.. to “help-you”.

When your child is clearly severely lacking in experience or skill to do a simple or a complex task. Do you do it for them, and when do they get to do it without you?  You see most children learning to walk, speak and do incredibly complex things like learning language, so how much is guided and how should you approach the process and them “achieving” those things you would like them to “try”. 
Now that I've asked some questions here are some observations, not answers.

Children as soon as they are partly mobile, crawling and standing want to “help”.  Help may be seeing you unpack some shopping and them wanting to get into a rucksack to see what it is you are taking out, something they may well recognise as food or at least something of importance to you.

Taking this as an example, progression may well go like this.
  • Tries to get into an open bag to see what's in there.
  • Tries to unzip the container or bag or tries to pull an item from it.
  • Tries to lift an item unaware of any fragility (or weight) and places it on the floor
  • Tries to place the item in a place where they have seen you place something similar or not
  • Try to help you as soon as you get in the door with the shopping (if they weren't with you while you are out).
  • Tries to place items in the correct place for your household
  • Expresses opinions or wishes to examine more closely (or eat) the item no matter how suitable.
  • May ask to go to get food from the shops or recognise when (if) there is a usual time for this activity.
  • May offer opinions on what they want before you go shopping and actively discuss the activity when you get home.
So with all this “trivial” activity, how does this link to children learning (and how did they learn) to progress.  Mine always wanted to “fix” things while watching me do so.  Go with it and it's easy to keep them safe while learning about bolts, things to turn, flip and mend.

In summary, what follows is an ideas-list of "helpful" activities that can be done, or improvised formally or informally.  Whether any of them are done or not and the child just continues to help with your “life-activities” (i.e. grocery shopping), the key element is that imperfect performance, or "failure" entirely to perform the task is to be praised, as it's the effort, determination or just the interest in the activity that is important, not proficiency or success.  With that effort, all activities are more succesful.

Following this approach; though somewhat simplified may help develop that “determination” to not only enjoy the complex tasks that they find the “easiest” or “are best at” but instead will enjoy challenging tasks, or ones which take the efforrt to dig deep to accomplish as a long term goal or as part of many small “puzzles”.

All focus on this blog post's subject of “HELPING”.

  1. Interacting with a mixed-age group and providing opportunities to communicate with people of all ages.  The variety can be intimidating, people can be loud or quiet or address children in different ways.
  2. Having the child choose where and sometimes in what order they want to do whatever “play/learning” activity they are doing.  They can “help” you choose a place to do the activity, or “set-up” or prepare the location for it too.
  3. Using abstract to lead into real-world activities.  For example: pouring water from one metal cup into another over and over may be very useful in progressing to pouring milk into their cup at breakfast.  These activities are simple to improvise at home, away from home or in nature. Formal “kits” can also be put together and “pulled out” when you want to rapidly do many “skills-packages” in short order.   Other activities could be, sorting, sequencing, fine motor skills, placement of objects, emptying, gathering similar items together (yes tidying), cleaning up after themselves, cleaning themselves or cutting/shaping.
  4. Unusual sensory experiences, slimy, gravelly, scratchy, natural or very soft textures.  Playing in the mud can be very helpful if you are growing vegetables don't forget.  Anticipating puddles can allow you to celebrate that sense of fun without worrying about their clean clothes meeting a sticky-end.
  5. Persisting with a tiring, frustrating or very challenging task – perhaps not resorting to being carried – instead stopping for a sip of water or stopping to examine something interesting in nature on a long walk in which otherwise they may have wanted to stop doing.  Even “helping” by handing cash to a person serving in a shop can serve to divert a tired child into a sense of their own central importance and helpfulness to a situation.
  6. Celebrating or reacting in a positive way to activities which some people may be averse to. Rain, mud, being dirty, (or clean) :), sorting washing, emptying a washing machine, sweeping up, and as I mentioned before -tidying-. Tidying is -very- helpful.
  7. Emphasising the process of learning or new experience rather than “grading” or “scoring” kids on success.  Perhaps the observation on how you love watching them use new colours in a drawing is better than the “completion” or “success” of the activity.
  8. Inquiry or what I call “link-learning”.   Perhaps your child has developed some keen interests, has a few favourite books (of the day), and perhaps there are some inquiring learning opportunities linking diverse things together.  A child with a keen interest in steam engines may be able to learn what “steam” is very quickly, by explaining that the kettle in the kitchen makes “steam”, and that other terms such as “Hot” “Ow!” and “Water” can be combined not only for understanding on how steam is produced but for reasons of safety in the future.
  9. Not worrying about the many parallel “development lanes”.   Small vocabulary but incredibly clear pronunciation?  Developed physical dexterity but low concentration span for the complex manipulations they can do?  Worry not.  Learning only really occurs when there are times of plateau or even a sense as an adult of going backwards.  Children however rarely do this, and much of their learning is invisible and will “pop-out” when you don't expect it.
  10. “Stuckness”.  Certain activities always seeming to be a block – perhaps think laterally and think why this is. Is it the time of day these activities take place, perhaps the child is lacking in some energy or is peckish, perhaps it's too close in time or in space to another or many distracting activities. Perhaps you yourself aren't in a patient observational, and balanced mood either.  Don't stress about it, just try to be aware of it and let things be and the right time for activities or learning will appear.

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