Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Whole World in a Puzzle

If you want to be a good teacher or a good learner, come sit on my living room carpet for awhile.

Sit with my boys and I, and do a jigsaw puzzle. I guarantee it will teach you more about learning than any lecture, any textbook, and possibly any degree.

A jigsaw puzzle distills teaching and learning to its very essence.

As kids learn, they need the appropriate levels of assistance. If you help too much, you're taking the learning away from them. If you don't help enough, kids may grow bored or frustrated (the ol' "flight or fight" thing). It takes skill and a careful eye to determine the appropriate level of scaffolding.

Today, as Owen worked on the fifty-piece dinosaur puzzle, I could see his brow furrow. His jaw set in frustration. He threw a piece over his shoulder and yelled, "This puzzle doesn't work!"

I gave him a minute, and then subtly found the pieces that made the Tyrannosaurus Rex. "Hey, buddy, why don't you work on these pieces?" He pieced the T-Rex together, and smiled with pride.

We did this again and again until the puzzle was complete.

Two-year-old Joel worked on the puzzle at the same time as his big brother. While Owen was at a point that he could piece scenes together, Joel was not yet there. I differentiated my teaching to fit his learning needs.

I found a few pieces that linked together, and sat next to Joel, as he experimented with the shapes and dimensions. Because I held my tongue and my hands, he surprised me by linking all three pieces together without any help at all.

Encourage Meta-cognition
After the puzzle was complete, Owen and I talked about our thinking process. We unpacked our thinking, and determined a few strategies that helped us be successful:

1) We figured out that straight-edges go on the outside edges.
2) We looked for like colors and patterns.
3) We did little bits when the big bits seemed like too much.
4) We asked for help when we needed it.

As Owen and I talked, I stated, "See how you can do hard things?" and "I like how you worked to meet your goals." I was trying to develop his sense of self-efficacy. Things in life aren't always going to be easy; having strategies when things get tough can be the difference between confidence and defeat.

Know when to Fold 'Em
As the boys looked at the puzzle with pride, Owen said, "Let's do it again!"

We tore it down, and two pieces in, Owen turned to me and said, "I want to play dump trucks."

And we did just that.

Thanks for tolerating my know-it-all post today. Lest you be too impressed or annoyed with me, let me also share that I flipped out over rice cake dust on my coffee table. I am no Jaime Escalate.


Elaine A. said...

I am still very impressed but thanks for keeping it real at the end there... ;)

StarTraci said...

Dust bunny or no, I am always impressed by you. I love puzzles but I am glad to be reminded of these steps. My son is naturally adept at puzzles. He has always performed well above age expectation on puzzles, so it has always been easy to let him just fly. I do have to sit on my hands with my daughter, however. I can get so results oriented that I undermine her growth which is no good for either of us. Thank you for reminding me of the value of letting her struggle. You pretty much amaze me!

Kim said...

I liked this post. I'm always trying to figure out how to make the play with my toddler more educational without him getting bored. We do puzzles but nothing as complicated as the one you described here. I have to tell you, I've been reading through your archives and think you're an excellent writer. I love your humour and you have a nice balance of material here. And I also am attracted to the fact that you're a mom of two boys.

Anonymous said...

Learning through play is best with the preschool crew. I wrote some sort of research paper about it back when I had a brain but no experience with real life children.

MiMi said...

What. People would be irritated about this post? I thought it was very informative for parents. :)

Matty said...

I remember working with my now grown children when they were little. Patience and perseverance were key. And now I get to do it again with my grandchildren.

Jenny said...

Gosh. I used to pay a shrink and they never figured out THIS is really what is wrong with me. I could never, ever figure out jigsaw puzzles.

I think there's a 12 piece Dora one laying around from a Grand. I'm going to tackle that today to try to straighten myself out!

This was really a great post. Just feeling silly this morning.

I think there's a lot of validity in what you wrote for sure.

clearness said...

You and me, we are pretty smart. (My grammar is questionable)

I sort of do the same things with the kids and Kevin doesn't understand that level of helping not enough, just enough, and too much. He drives me nuts when he 'helps' the kids with stuff.

Michelle Pixie said...

I loved this post! It really is such a fine balance with our kids. And your boys are so blessed to have you for a momma!

Then the crumbs just prove this job ain't for sissy's!

Cat said...

Lovely parenting... I like how you got all that from a puzzle.

Marla said...

Like it or not, I think you are a top-notch mommy. Great post, Nancy!

Anonymous said...

I love that you said: "I am no Jaime Escalate." because I make Jaime references all the time and no one in my world gets it.

I have a crush on your mind Nancy. Yours and Dave Eggers. Ever read anything by him? If not, you should.

Your friend *Monica* ;)