Show. Don't Tell.

If I was to start reading this aloud to you right now, you'd either stop reading yourself, or ignore what I was saying.

You can't do both, and, neither can your children. They can either listen to your explanation, or watch what you are showing them. But I bet you have tried explaining the merits of using a fork to eat that pasta, or why we don't take things out of the trashcan, or how to properly play with that toy. 

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We learn by doing things. It's how we are wired. The reason you can learn from what I'm writing is ONLY because you spend some time when you were younger deciphering these sounds people made with their mouths, figured out the pattern and meanings behind the groups of sounds, and eventually even mapped these little black marks on the page back to what you now know are words, thoughts, ideas, sentences, and concepts. After all that work, you can now take the abstract concepts of written words and mash MY ideas together in YOUR head to form a new connection. It's quite remarkable really.

Most young children are nowhere near this level of abstract thinking and processing. And to expect them to follow along is a bit like teaching a person to swim after they jumped into the deep end. You need to start with the basics in a supportive environment for learning.

So instead of telling our children what to do, we must show them.  You've probably experienced the power of showing your child something, like that time your toddler said "that phrase you don't say in public" when she dropped her plate.  Here's how you can purposefully show a skill to your young child, step by step. 


How to Show a Skill

1. First, decide if you are working on a practice step, or the entire goal activity. The younger your child, the simpler your demonstration needs to be. Gather your materials.  

2. Next, break down your skill into small, clear steps.  Watch how I clearly show the simple steps in fitting these square toys together: 


3. You can now turn it over to your child. She might do exactly what you did, she might walk away, she might do part, and then do something completely different. All of these are great. Insisting your child do exactly what you did will ruin the magic and invite a power struggle. Be sure to join our course to learn how to coach your child through to mastery by asking the right questions, encouraging, allowing for self-correction, and supporting failure.

Did you try this?  Share your own activities and experience!


About the Author:

Leanne Gray, M.Ed has over fifteen years experience working with children in both public, private, and Montessori schools, and is AMI primary trained. 

She's on a mission to raise a generation of kind, confident, responsible children, and does this through her work with families and schools.   Read more here. 

Leanne Gray, M.Ed is the owner of The Prepared Environment, which supports families in creating an ideal environment for their children at home. She has over fifteen years experience working with children in both public, private, and Montessori schools, and is AMI primary trained. You can always contact her for personalized support and answers to your questions