The Challenge of Meeting Each Child Where They Are

Oliver is a child with a lot of aptitude for drawing and much knowledge about the things he likes. Left alone, I think he would draw and write and make wonderful things. But he often tells me he needs help, and doesn't move forward alone. I have come to see that when he has reached a "knotty problem" in his thinking or making, Oliver needs someone to come close, listen and help him talk through the difficulty. It seems that the support he feels just by having someone near, who is interested and involved in his process, is all he really needs.

Here (above) I helped Oliver think about the some of the shapes in an electric guitar, which he drew and then made in cardboard (which I cut out for him).

Here Oliver drew from a photograph of Ringo's drums. He asked for help to draw the cymbals, when he had drawn the stands, so I drew one (my lines are lighter than his, right), and later I drew one version of Paul's bass at his request (the tiny one center left). It feels important to contribute when a child asks me to, but I don't want to draw in a way that shuts down the child's process. It is tricky!
Below, Ainsley was the support by working in tandem with Oliver. They are using rulers to draw straight lines for violin necks. Oliver made 2 clowns holding instruments in our earlier Circus project.

Other children were inspired by the drumset Oliver built, making their own versions. I believe that collaboration and interaction with other children, both in the process of making things and afterward, by seeing the 'contagion' of his ideas, is one of the things that teaches Oliver the most.
Meeting each child were they are means helping children move forward in their thinking, understandings and skills. I believe that people are smart in many ways. Knowing how and where to scaffold, and finding the places where I can support each student requires listening, and stepping in at times and holding back at others. It requires much reflection and skill, constant self-questioning, and  is one of the most interesting pleasures of teaching. Some day I will have learned this, how to teach in a constructivist classroom, but in the meantime, I will enjoy practicing.


  1. This reads like a character study. I love having students like it sounds Oliver is, ones who can draw others into their world by virtue of their passion. It makes our jobs so much easier and interesting.

    I like the idea of "meeting children where they are." It really seems to be the essence of teaching. Not all of the kids are as easy to figure out. It sometimes takes me 4-5 months or more to "fiddle around" with a kid enough that I really know how to teach her. Your post makes me realize that what I'm doing is trying to find out where the kids are. That's why I'm so happy that I get to teach most of the children for 3 years. If I only had them for one year, they'd leave me just as I'm getting good at teaching them. Maybe I'm just a slow learner, but I think what I'm trying to do is meet them where they are.

  2. Do you know about the Circle of Security (Bert Powell, Kent Hoffman etc) and the terms they use (from the Attachment literature) of Secure Base and Safe Haven also concepts of "Being With" and "Holding" - that idea of not PUSHING a child too fast or far away from emotions but helping them by being bigger kinder stronger wiser. Awesome work. Just came back from 5 days of training with Bert Powell and can say it is is the best training have ever done/been too. One of those things you wished everyone knew about - as we have all once been children, have all had an experience of being parented and many go on to BE parents and/or work with children and need to be that secure base/safe haven for them.


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