Children Relish Autonomy

One interesting thing I learned from being in the classroom is that children don’t enjoy being spoon-fed ideas or being told to present their story in a certain way.

Children want to take control of their imagination; they want to express their creativity in their own individual way, without adults breathing down their neck.

The classroom can be a time-pressured space; indeed, the day is governed by bells and timetables.  At the start of my teaching career, I admit that when coming to the end of an English lesson and someone in my class had hardly written anything I’d provide a compulsory ‘swoop in and rescue service’. This basically meant I gave the child a few emergency, career-saving, dictated sentences, anything but a blank page was acceptable. But I was missing so much...I was also sending signals to the child that they were too slow and therefore not good enough. Was the child a perfectionist who was scared of failure? Were they feeling overtired and drained of creative energy or were they distracted by something else going on in their life? These are some of the things that needed unpicking.

Why did I feel a need to jump in so quickly? What was I scared of? Well, I was scared that it would reflect badly on me as a teacher. I mean the child was very bright so why hadn't they written a lot? I was scared what the powers above would say when they looked through my pupils’ books, after all, evidence in books is what mattered and I didn’t think a gentle and supportive conversation with the child to elicit a reason for a lack of writing would be of equal value. At least a few good sentences (dictated by me) wouldn’t raise any alarms, right?

As the years rolled on, I became more confident in my teaching style and began to appreciate the subtleties of giving children autonomy in their work.  I stopped being scared of the blank page, I made room for conversations, I watched and learned as tone and body language spoke to me and my patience grew (in the classroom, not home!). The results amazed me. A shift in my mindset seemed to make a lot of difference to children’s feelings of self-worth and confidence. Not only do I now appreciate the need to encourage autonomy but it is central to my teaching ethos.

Here is what I think giving children autonomy can do:

·        Improves creative confidence and self-belief

·        Increases feelings of personal satisfaction

·        Instils independent thinking and responsibility

·        Increases enjoyment

·        Increases self-awareness and critical thinking

·        It is empowering

So, what can you do to encourage autonomy in your child? You could ask yourself the following questions:

Do you rush in to give your child the answer?

Are you quick to judge your child’s written attempts? (In your view, have they lost the plot and do you share that with them?)

Do you tend to praise outcome over effort?

It is sometimes hard to sit back and allow children to use their own ideas, when as adults we want to intervene and change the course of their story. However, over time when we allow children the freedom to express their creativity their confidence soars and the quality of their writing steadily improves. Some children lap up top tips for their stories, for others it depends how it is worded! Whilst others want to do it their way at all cost. There’s not one size that fits all and that’s fine, but I believe that autonomy is super important.

Let's embrace children's stories no matter how bizarre and join in with their excitment to be part of their creative journey! You'll love it. 

Posted on May 14th 2021

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