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The zone of proximal development

Know when to help and when not to help your child 

 Lev Vygotsky, a Russian socio-cultural psychologist observed that there is a fine line dividing the developmental areas of children, differentiating an actually achieved level performance and the one that can be achieved with the help of adults. 

He also stated that since a child spends most of their time with their parent(s) during their early developmental years, it is important for the parents to model positive behaviour for the child, while at the same time enhancing their learning abilities as well. 

When parents understand the proximal developmental zone, often abbreviated as ZPD, of their child, they will know when to help and when not to help their child for maximum development. This can be extremely useful in learning for the child in early developmental years. 

Though the theory was not fully developed, today the method is extensively used as tool of evaluation in kindergarten settings. The theory enables the teachers not only to evaluate but also understand the performance level of their students in a better way. 

Knowing ZPD 

When toddlers interact with more knowledgeable and better performing adults who help and guide them in learning, there is visible improvement in cognitive development of the child. 

The term zone of proximal development refers to the region between what children already know and what they are capable of learning under guidance of competent adults who will sensitively lend or withdraw their help in a manner which challenges the child to take a step in the zone which is beyond the current level of performing ability. ZPD theory states that children who are faced with challenges in advance with a well-organized learning process will bring about the needed development more effectively. 

Today the theory is widely used by educators as well as psychologists to understand the internal course of development in a child. 

How can it help your child

In the crucial early developmental years, a child learns almost everything through the interactions he/she has with their better competent partners, who in many cases are the parents. By locating the zone of proximal development you as a parent, teacher or mentor of the child will be familiar enough to recognize where he/she is within the zone of proximal development through questioning, or observing the performance. 

When you are familiar with a child’s ZPD you will be able to hold back the natural urge to jump in and fix everything for your child. Take a step back, observe and evaluate the situation. See if the concept or task at hand your child is struggling with, in the ZPD or not. Do not rush in to help when asked immediately, but instead give the child confidence that they can do it. Lend your support or guidance, little by little to see how far your child can go. 

This practice will boost the confidence level in your child that they can do it. On the other hand, it will make them feel secure to know there is someone to lend support when required. Overall the child will enjoy learning through this method, whereas you as a parent or teacher will love the role you are playing in the development of your child.