A: Let kids play with leadership, following & cooperation
Being an early childhood educator, I have had the privilege of watching children blossom into empowered young leaders who enjoy helping and guiding peers with confidence and vigor. In helping a child become a leader, I would often encourage play themes that inspire an awareness of oneself in a social context. I see similar patterns of teaching and learning are described in this Wall Street Journal interview with Garth Saloner, dean of Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business.
I would concur with Mr. Saloner who states that teaching personal leadership skills is “about self-awareness and that’s at the core of leadership.” Providing activities that welcome a social volley, in which all parties get a chance to lead, follow and reflect on the reciprocal nature of play and of life, are invaluable whether the student is in kindergarten or in graduate school. In my early childhood classrooms, putting out a set of oversized puppy food bowls, placemats, and fake dog bones inevitably inspires children to invent their own “puppy” pretend. Within moments, this naturally evolves into experimentation with the roles of leader and follower, mastery and cooperation (and at least one child sitting in a pretend food bowl). Who will be puppy and who will be trainer? They tend to take turns with both.
Spike and Tonya Lewis Lee have created an outstanding and charming children’s book, Please, Puppy, Please, which showcases this very interplay between young children’s desire for mastery, influence and leadership and their struggle to follow directions and temper a desire for complete abandon. Readers can see this book online or see me flip though its pages on this FOX Chicago piece about summertime learning. It is a truly great children’s book that would make a nice addition to any home or classroom library. Parents who read and discuss this book with children will find it a delightful experience.
High-tech educational learning can also connect to and complement childhood socio-dramatic role-play and literary experiences. For those outside of early childhood classrooms, it may be counterintuitive that something as natural as childhood pretend play can be core to one’s ability to become a leader, but with the right supplementary tools and guidance, it has that potential. Our own game, Left Right Pup, which teaches the empowering skill of directionality, also models these classic childhood themes of turn-taking, leading, following and cooperation. Since these are foundational for the development of leadership roles, our lighthearted app takes care to let the “pup” have his turn to lead his mild-mannered surfer friend in this reciprocal game of clue giving and exploration of a park and beach scenes. We let these two gentle, self-reliant young characters acknowledge their own moments of achievement as they experiment in roles of cooperation, challenge and empowerment. We hope it helps to encourage your children to do the same.