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Literacy Library Bulletin

How Do Children Learn? The Value of Taking Risks and Making Approximations

by Maryann Whitfield

January 2023

I watched in fascination as my grandson built his newest Lego set. Building with Legos is one of his passions. He faithfully followed the directions given in schematic drawings. These types of instructions present a daunting task for many adults! But this child was confident and fearless as he began. He had observed and worked with his dad using instructions like these when they built other sets together. Today he was tackling the task on his own. As he worked, some of his early attempts were not successful. The pieces just didn’t fit together properly and had to be deconstructed. He would reconstruct the section, learning from what he had done wrong. Ultimately, his persistence yielded the prized new Lego structure.

Less obvious in his work was what he was learning. He was discovering how to read instructions. He was recognizing the value of taking a risk. He was learning that if an attempt isn’t successful, you keep trying. You persist. You learn from your approximations (attempts). He was developing perseverance when faced with the challenges of attempting something new.

Just like building with Legos, children learning to read need a willingness to take risks and learn from their approximations. As parents, grandparents, and caretakers our interactions with our young and older readers have the potential to encourage them to be risk-takers who make their less than perfect attempts with confidence rather than reluctance.

To help children develop confidence as readers, no matter their age, we can read engaging books together and have conversations about what we are reading. During these times children come to understand books carry meaning. As they do some of the reading on their own, they see themselves as readers capable of tackling the challenges that are part of reading. They want to know what the author is saying to them. They want to figure out new words they encounter. They want to reread books and receive the satisfaction of familiar stories. They want to learn, to appreciate, to wonder. They want to laugh at the funny parts and, yes, to be a little frightened at the scary parts. They come to know reading is powerful and rewarding and can bring new horizons into view.

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