Don’t Get Down with the Kids

Kids

Aren’t they cute?

Children are naturally very good at some things. For example, they are exceptionally good at playing. They need very little help with this, and in fact, they don’t even need toys. Some sticks and mud are more than enough once they get going. Very young ones need some encouragement and example, but this is best provided not by adults but by older children. Adults just aren’t so good at playing.

Adults are, however, good at being still and focusing on a task. They are good at finishing one thing before moving on to something else. They are good at listening politely and not interrupting. They have a much wider knowledge and vocabulary. Adults have knowledge and skills which children need to learn if they are to mature successfully.

And yet, bizarrely, there are many adults who try their best to behave like children when they are interacting with them. They try to join in with their games. They try to reduce their vocabulary. They try to get ‘down with the kids’.

Imagine if we did this with babies. When we were in their presence, we would only use words they already knew. So we wouldn’t speak to them at all. We would try to act like them as much as possible. So we had better not walk, or we might alienate them. Better roll around on the floor and wave our arms around, imitating all that wonderful natural spontaneity. After all, we wouldn’t want to corrupt them with our artificial adult ways.

If we get down, will they ever grow up? We are raising adults, not children.

The lowering of adult dignity and authority even continues into interaction with adolescents, who are nearing adulthood themselves. Adults try to learn about the latest drivel to issue from the popular culture industry. They try to learn teenage slang. In doing so, they are making themselves look ridiculous and encouraging the arrogance of teenagers, who think they know so much more than their uncool elders about what really matters.

The teenagers are wrong. Adults know a lot more than they do. And yet so many adults are shy about passing on their knowledge, or about using vocabulary that will not be instantly accessible to the young. They don’t want to be ‘didactic’; they don’t want to alienate young people with ‘lectures’.

I’ve had to discover many a valuable piece of information in a slow, uncertain and laborious way, because no one explained it to me when I was young. What’s the problem with wanting my own children, or my pupils, to be spared that pain?

(Image from Wikimedia).

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7 thoughts on “Don’t Get Down with the Kids

  1. Best line: “If we get down, will they ever grow up? We are raising adults, not children.”

    It’s my biggest pet peeve that we do not allow children to learn from their peers, and that adult interaction with them, when learning a sport on the playground, or social interaction with others, needs to be learned from other kids. Adult intervention only makes it worse, and I would also suggest that is one reason why bullying is such a hot topic these days. If we allowed the kids to resolve these issues on their own, without having the grown ups constantly interfering, their understanding and conflict resolution skills would be a lot stronger, and better.

    Thank you Anthony, for speaking the truth.

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  2. “You have to bring yourself down to the level of a child”

    Actual words repeated to me often during my teacher training year. Apparently, this is the kindest and best way to teach. This is the child-centred way.

    Of course, I agree with your blog post. There is another level to consider: being ‘down with the kids’ is also used as a way of dismissing the intellect and worth of those teachers who have very good academic qualifications. So, someone with a good knowledge of maths is frequently told that their knowledge and expertise is worthless because they don’t know how to ‘communicate with a little child’ (because said expert prefers to act and talk like an adult) or that they don’t know about how early maths skills are developed.

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    • As with many of the lies told to trainees, there is a grain of truth in the idea that experts can struggle to communicate with novices. I’ve started using Engelmann’s Direct Instruction materials, and the amount of repetition is impressive. I tend to underestimate how often concepts need to be revisited before there is any chance that they are mastered. The best antidote to the ‘expert blindness’ is good traditional resources with lots of repetition built in.

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  3. I love this post!! We are indeed raising adults, but ten years in primary school makes me wonder if all adults are in fact aware of this biological inevitability! Go into any primary class and ask children if they want to do a class job and they will fall over themselves volunteering. Why? Because they want to learn how to do the things that adults do!! It really is that simple. They want responsibility, independence and to be able to show they can be relied on. I find the whole imposition of adult ideals of childhood and it’s association of being irresponsible and immature, acting against the interests of children’s natural instinct to grow up.

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  4. Interacting with babies is different to them learning through their environment (i.e. through watching what adults etc. are doing around them). Parents will typically play with their babies by using wide eyes, blowing bubbles on their tummy, tickling them, repeating simple sounds (‘ma ma’ etc.). This behaviour seems to be hard wired into us when we see a tiny baby. Babies learn a lot through exploration and natural physical development rather than just via modelling, i.e. they learn to roll over and pull themselves along in order to reach a toy but they don’t need to see adults rolling over and pulling themselves along to do that (luckily as that might be a bit embarrassing). The way we model things changes with the child’s age, so it wouldn’t be appropriate to do some of the things we do with 0-5 year olds with a teenager. Our practitioners will play happily all day with our 2-4 year olds, and I’d be very worried (and so would the parents be) if they didn’t. Early child development is a very interesting field.

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Thoughtful and reasonable discussion is always welcome.

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