First Key for Releasing the Brilliance of the Young Child

by Ginny Trierweiler, Ph.D.

Surprised to observe emerging executive functions in very young children at Family Star Montessori School in Denver, Colorado, Ginny Trierweiler, Ph.D. and Deborah Silvis, Ph.D. Candidate decided to observe the conditions and approaches that fostered these emerging capabilities in young children (infants through 6 years old).  They identified 7 inter-related keys that seemed to support the development of critical behaviors indicative of organizing oneself to achieve a goal, such as Initiative, Concentration, Focus of Attention, Persistence, and Self-control.  One of these keys was supporting young children’s active, self-directed learning.  In this post, we will outline the researchers’ observations further regarding this key—and what we observed the adults to be DOING when young children demonstrated emerging executive functions, as well as common approaches to young children that we DID NOT observe adults to be doing at these times.


  • Give young children choices
  • Support young children’s initiative and opportunities for experiencing learning
  • Give young children information about how to do things independently
  • Allow young children to do independent work
  • Encourage individual approaches to participating in learning activities
  • Encourage movement in learning throughout the day
  • With young children, do fewer group activities to allow for more self-direction
  • Talk to and with children

COMMON BEHAVIORS THAT ADULTS DID NOT DO–which seemed to help promote active, self-directed learning in young children. Do LESS of these to promote active, self-directed learning, great brain development, and constructive behavior.

  • Keep young children contained
  • Prevent young children from exploring their environments
  • Discourage children from touching things
  • “Fix” or clean up after children as though their actions have disturbed the environment
  • Insist that everyone must work on the same thing at the same time

IN SUMMARY–  Interest and choice are proven to result in better learning and greater persistence—for children of all ages and for adults. When adults support young children’s initiative and choices, show them how to do things independently, encourage individual approaches, and allow young children to do independent work, young children demonstrate greater interest in learning, greater self-organization and self-management.  In these environments, young children become better able to organize themselves in purposeful activity. They develop greater ability to delay gratification, a skill know to be quite important for life success.

What will YOU do differently to promote active, selfdirected learning in the young children in your care?

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