Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The building blocks of success

My favorite lessons in daycare land are not ones I had planned; they are lessons that evolve through the children’s interactions with each other when no pesky adults are hovering around mucking things up. They are the moments when everyone in the group has something to give and something to gain based on where they are in their development.

This morning I was working on a math activity with some children, while others were off doing their own thing. Everyone came to visit me for a bit then scampered off to do something else. I was busily recording how the kids were separating items according to size, shape and color when I looked over to see a different kind of math moment unfolding all on it’s own. It came about without any prompting or planning on my part; just some big kids supporting one tiny kid while she worked on her own spatial problem.

This is what I saw.

C was working off to the side with three large blocks trying to stack them up on end so that they were taller than she was. The first few times she tried, they fell over just as she reached up to place the third block on top. After several toppling towers, she figured out she needed to get a little higher to position it correctly; she stretched a little farther and voila! she had her tower. When she was finally successful she wanted everyone to know about it. She grunted excitedly and pointed several times smiling ear to ear, dancing, clapping and marveling at her success. 

L looked up from his cars and smiled, A walked over, rubbed her back and said “Good job C” in the sweetest voice, and S said “Look! C made a tower!” as he grinned ear to ear. J watched. W watched.

We all celebrated her moment  in our own way, then went back to our work.


A few minutes later, C decided she wanted the tower to be taller so she got to work setting the pieces up on top of a milk crate. 
She got the first two bricks set up properly, then she maneuvered her body over to the second milk crate and attempted to set the third block on top. It was a lot of work for her to balance her tiny body on top of the milk crate with a big brick in her hands. She almost fell off a few times maneuvering the uneven crates. 

She had a tough time judging the distance she would need to go to position the block on top of the other unsteady blocks. 

Many times she misjudged and knocked her tower down but each time C patiently set her brick down, climbed off the crate and started the whole process again. 

Then she did it again and again. 

A, W and L all peeked up from their work to watch her from time to time. 

After a few failed attempts, S got up from his work to do it for her. I reminded S that the project was C’s and that she needed to figure it out for herself. I told him that making mistakes is part of learning so it’s important that we respect her space while she’s working. 

S moved off to the side and gave her some verbal feedback on how she could improve her building technique. He said things like, “You’ve got to move it like this C, then you just stack that one there so it won’t fall down.” all the while he positioned his imaginary blocks in the air. L joined in on the advising commity, J and W watched

C looked to her advisors, then to her blocks; then she got back to work. 
We all watched for a while, offering words of encouragement or building advice then we went back to our work.

C kept at it until clean up time. She never was successful in stacking all three bricks on the crate but she did learn that balancing, stacking figuring out distances are tricky work.

More importantly she learned she is surrounded by people who celebrate her successes and that “failure” is just an invitation to try again a different way. 


  1. I love all the kiddies holding hands.

  2. That was inspired by your daughter, she loves being where the big kids are!