Learning to solve problems through mistakes

Omar Rahal From Al Ein Camp plays with a matching puzzle. As a child, my mom usually prevented me from facing problems. She found solutions all the time before I even had a problem. She did not let me have the opportunity to work with independently to find solutions, and now I realize I have lost a lot because I was seldom cognitively challenged as a child.

In my experience at TYO as a Core teacher, I've found that when children encounter problems or challenges they struggle to identify potential causes or solutions. This is problematic not only in terms of the problem at hand, but it also has negative implications for future, as children are not taught to develop problem-solving skills. Because of my own background, I relate to these kids easily- I can feel what’s going on in their lives, and it is my responsibility as a teacher to the children develop their personalities and cognitive abilities and emotional abilities.

Sometimes I run into issues with parents who think their young children (4 and 5 years old) are not yet able and capable to work through problems on their own, but when you speak to the parents about their children's behavior it becomes clear the parents also lack critical thinking skills as they relate to problem solving. If children are not taught from the youngest ages to think critically, they grow into adults that face the same challenges. This is what we are focusing on correcting in the Core Child program at TYO- how we can create a stimulating environment for children that encourages them to make mistakes, think and learn. Sometimes it’s as simple as working with a child to build a structure out of blocks- showing them it's ok if they make mistakes as they're building, but what's most important is that they learn how to manage their own frustration, learn how to ask for help, and be willing to try again.

The type of encouragement and positive reinforcement we give to kids at TYO should be the same type of treatment children receive when they go home. In order to help facilitate similar dialog in the homes, we host many meetings with parents and make frequent calls home in order to relay these messages to parents- to let them know why it’s important to allow both structured and unstructured play in their houses. This past week, children in my classes were working on how to find and develop peaceful problem solving techniques. My responsibility is to let the kids understand that trying to find solutions is better than achieving itself. It’s not a shame if, as a child, you ask for help from your classmates or adults around you. I mention this because in my classes, it’s so hard for children to admit their needs. They feel that asking for help is a sign of weakness, so part of my job is to break down these misconceptions and let them know that feelings are acceptable and not weak. In just five weeks, I've already seen considerable progress with the students. Earlier this week I was quite moved when I heard children try to help each other by giving different ideas to rebuild a structure made of blocks that had just fallen over. They were proposing ideas on how they could make the building stronger from the bottom to help it not fall down. One child took off his shoes to help support the tower and make it stronger. Another child felt frustrated because any time the tower fell he thought he was responsible. Other children stepped-in to encourage him to try again. For me, even such small actions are clear indications of all that I rooted in these children in less than five weeks. My philosophy in teaching is learning through trying and in five short weeks, it's been clear that's exactly what's been happening in my classroom.

This program - as part of Student Training and Employment Program (STEP!) - is sponsored in part by the Abdul Hamid Shoman Foundation.

-Core Teacher, Mufeedah