Where do world-class athletes, brilliant writers and artists, and great leaders go to realize their highest potential? They get into their Zone.
Psychologist Lev Vygotsky coined the term “zone of proximal development” or ZPD to describe the sweet spot of learning. The Zone takes a learner from their existing capabilities to greater skills that they have the potential to acquire, with guidance and encouragement. What this looks like in our kids is productive struggle, and it leads to better learning.
But, kids just don’t get there by themselves. How can parents and caretakers help them get into their Zone during stay-at-home?
Try I Do, We Do, You Do
Teachers expertly scaffold learning experiences so that students stay in their ZPDs. This takes teachers years of study and experience, but parents can get started by following these simple steps:
First, kick off I Do and model it for your kid. Or, watch a YouTube video from a skilled expert to learn yourself.
Then, move into We Do, which is guided interaction, where you are offering lots of feedback and assigning small jobs to each other. Remember, you are still learning together. “I do” and “We do” are stages of scaffolding that should be as short as possible so that your kid gets to independence as rapidly as possible.
As you move into You Do, you are ideally still physically present, but you’re not staring over your kid’s shoulder. You’re letting your kid have some space. It’s important that you don’t jump in just because your child isn’t doing things your way. Learning is filled with small mistakes, and we’re often our own best teachers.
- Ask your kids questions to help them figure out the answer. Provide the scaffolding that your young learner needs to get to the Zone, but resist the urge to micromanage them. Let them manage the tasks that are within their capability.
- Engage in learning together. Is your child learning about marine life? Watch documentaries together. Do you need to look up what a tsunami is? Google it together. Look for real-world learning moments that help your child connect what they’re learning to real life.
- Try these five power behaviors when they are stuck. When kids struggle to pick up a new skill, they misinterpret “this is hard” for “I must not be learning much” and give up. Self-directed learners, though, are able to set a learning goal, make a plan to achieve that goal, implement the plan, and show what they have done, even if they encounter challenges. The five power behaviors that power self-directed learners are their abilities to shift strategy, seek challenges, persist, respond to setbacks, and seek appropriate help. Consider helping your kid find their learning groove by practicing one of the five power behaviors.
- Suggest they ask older mentors or skilled peers for help. Is your child struggling with some math problems? Try pairing them (virtually of course) with an older peer who can improve their comprehension.
Getting into the Zone takes practice. With persistence, though, you will be on your way to helping your kid identify and get into their Zone, where the most magical learning happens.