If your child struggles when trying something new, they are not alone! Trying new things can be challenging for different reasons. For example, children may feel too tired or upset to give their best effort to a new activity. Or they may worry that they won’t complete the activity perfectly the first time. Talented kids are used to achieving success, so they may feel thrown off when struggling with a new task.
Here are five approaches you can use to support children when they try something new!
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According to educators, these can include a focus on only one “correct” answer, excessive extrinsic rewards, or materials and instructions that are too structured. Here are three research-based applications you can try.
- Ask open-ended questions. Expect varied answers.
- Calmly talk through a new challenge. Encourage children to try the activity, even if they don’t enjoy it at first. But, don’t force it.
- Remind them of all their previous new “firsts” that they didn’t love before trying them.
You can say, “Remember the first time you tried to eat edamame? You didn’t think you would like them. Now, it’s one of your favorite snacks! Sometimes, it pays off when you try something new.”
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Innovate with arts-based explorations
In a 2010 study of preschool children’s drawings, when educators gave children new information, their pictures became more original. The authors found that most children repeated unique patterns in their drawings, resulting in highly original drawings. Here are four strategies based on this study that you can help children to attempt:
- Encourage children to try out different ideas often, so that they become “fluent” at trying new approaches.
- Affirm children when they use their original ideas creatively.
- Encourage them to stay flexible. If one approach doesn’t work the first time, help them consider a new approach.
- Offer art-based materials. These offer open-ended opportunities for varied engagement.
You can say, “Look at these books about learning to draw. You can see five different ways to draw a turtle! Does this give you any new ideas about drawing reptiles?”
Respond to the “moment”
Sometimes structured, planned activities offer few opportunities to try something new. There are times when unplanned activities become highly engaging, creating unique opportunities to try new approaches. Art teacher Ardina Greco demonstrates the power of improvisation in art-making. She guided her students through new experiences as they created puppets, put on performances, and created “trash fashion” with recycled materials. Here are three applications you can try based on her study.
- Help children stage a show or assemble a portfolio of their original artwork to showcase their innovations.
- Follow the child’s lead in a new interest they haven’t shown before. Avoid shutting it down.
- Use cooperative learning. Pair children with more knowledgeable “others” to help them do more than they otherwise could. You could pair them with a peer, teacher, or another caring adult.
You can say, “Whoops, there’s an extra drop of paint on your paper that you didn’t mean to make. That’s okay, can you make that happy accident into something new?"
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Make it dramatic
Use improvisation to practice trying something new. Drama teacher Jeff Redman helped his eighth-grade students to try new approaches to telling stories about modern-day slavery. He guided students through theater exercises that included a performance with bamboo sticks that student groups used to gesture, make sounds, and move together in unison. Here are three applications you might try.
- Use props to help try out new ideas.
- Use improvisation prompts or theater exercises to help children try new activities.
- Borrow the “yes, and” theater technique. In this approach, players remain open to others’ suggestions and build upon them.
You can say, “Your little brother wants to pretend to be a superhero with you. Try playing with your idea first, and then include his idea, too. This way, everyone gets a fair chance to make decisions.”
Keep it playful
Early childhood education researcher Karen Wohlwend explains that young children have a right to access playshops and makerspaces, in support of social justice. Play is a valuable, developmentally appropriate practice during which children attempt new things in their own time. Here are three applications you might try.
- Model different strategies. Encourage children in their attempts. Let them see you try things that are new to them, like blowing bubbles underwater.
- Steer your child toward activities with high intrinsic value, or high internal rewards, such as play-based activities.
- Let children make decisions about what to do.
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