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Day 5 - The Zone of Proximal Development

Day 5 - The Zone of Proximal Development

Alexis Ralphs Sep 25 • 7 min read

How involved do you get in your child's play?

Do you leave them to it? Do you jump in and show them how it's done so they can 'do it right'? Perhaps you start them off with a provocation (see our blog for more on this) and retreat to a safe distance?

Imagine you are watching your child build a tower. They choose the simplest way - stacking one block on top of another. They then decide to make it wider. A second, parallel tower goes up, abutting the first. Five or six stories up these two constructions start to diverge, teeter and topple. As adults, we know that a cross-piece was needed, something to span the two towers and hold them together.

It would be easy to intervene and supply the missing piece. But how much would your child learn? Or, like the constructivists we learnt about on Day 1, you could leave your child to figure it out for herself.

There is, as you may have guessed, a third way. The difference between what your child can do independently and what they can accomplish with support is known as the Zone of Proximal Development.

How much you help is a matter of judgement. As little as possible, ideally. You can't learn for a child; they have to do it themselves. But you can certainly give them a nudge. It is often enough simply to ask a question or to draw their attention to the crucial feature of a problem.

Today's challenge: Observe your child at play. At times when she seems to get stuck, try to think of ways to help without giving the answer. What's the smallest intervention you can make that will still get the result? It takes practice to get this right, but it's worth the trouble. You can really accelerate your child's learning - and you'll both have fun doing it.

N.B. This is not a strategy to use all the time. Children need time to themselves.


Here's the rest of the series:


Day 1 - Theories of Development

Day 2 - Stages of Play

Day 3 - Play is Multisensory

Day 4 - Gender-Neutral Toys

Day 5 - The Zone of Proximal Development

Day 6 - Heuristic Play

Day 7 - Spot the Difference

Day 8 - Sorting

Day 9 - Schemas

Day 10 - Ask good questions

Day 11 - Conservation

Day 12 - Seriation

Day 13 - Observation

Day 14 - Set a good example

Day 15 - Fewer toys = more focus

Day 16 - The Hundred Languages of Children

Day 17 - Plan-do-review

Day 18 - Practical life

Day 19 - Free-flow play

Day 20 - Executive functions

Day 21 - Spaced repetition

Day 22 - Independent play

Day 23 - Project-based Learning

Day 24 - The Environment As The Third Teacher

Day 25 - Start With The Child

Day 26 - Symbolic Play

Day 27 - Learning To Write

Day 28 - Blocks: the indispensable toy

Day 29 - Outdoor Learning

Day 30 - Play

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