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Scaffolding: A Support Structure for Success PDF Print E-mail
Written by Bethany Kientzel   


I recently read an article about things kids need to do by themselves by age 13. It was a great reminder that our goal as parents is to teach our children to become as independent as possible in preparation for adulthood. It outlined 8 responsibilities that parents should completely let go of and hand over to their children by age 13. The premise of the article is that if we allow our children to suffer the consequences of failure rather than rescuing them, they will be motivated to discover ways to be successful at things like, waking themselves up in the morning, making their own breakfast, packing their own lunch, filling out their own school paperwork, remembering all items they need to take for the day, doing their own laundry, emailing/calling their teachers and coaches, and handling all of their academic challenges on their own. This is a great plan in theory, and no doubt there are many Tweens who are up for the challenge, but there are many kids who would not be able to figure these tasks out on their own. Using “tough-love” or the “swim or sink” method of teaching, would not be a learning experience for some kids. In some cases, these methods may even cross over the line to neglect. In order for children to learn new things, challenges have to match the child’s abilities. This sometimes means breaking tasks down into separate chunks and then providing a tool, or structure, for each chunk. This is called scaffolding.


Scaffolding is the concept of providing supportive tools for instruction in the academic arena as well as life-skill-building. An example of academic scaffolding would be if a child were having trouble editing one of their writing samples, so they use a “tool” of breaking down the editing process in to smaller tasks. They may first edit their entire paper for capitalization, then for spelling, then for punctuation etc, instead of having to keep in mind all of the editing pieces at the same time. They may have all of the knowledge needed to edit, but are unable to be successful until they break down the process into smaller and simpler chunks. Scaffolding helps to reveal a more accurate account of what kids actually know. An example of life-skill-building scaffolding would be if a child were tasked to pack everything they need to bring with them for the day. They may need a checklist to help them remember all of the items and/or an alarm set to signify when it is time to begin gathering their things.


Keri Allen, MOT, OTR/L, from Pediatric Therapy Center in Aptos, says, “Each child is, of course, different in the approach that works best…The art of effective scaffolding is knowing when to intervene and when to back off with support/cues, allowing the child to actively participate as much as possible.” This approach is very different than leaving a child to flounder on their own. “It takes teamwork and trust between you and the child,” says Allen. “Our job as adults is to read the cues of when support is needed and to create opportunities for motivation so that the child continues trying and does not give up despite the challenge.” Allen reports, “The benefits of scaffolding a task are: improved willingness to attempt challenging tasks, increased self esteem, and overall improved learning of new skills.”


While some kids may learn from forgetting their lunch and feeling hungry all day, other kids need assistance and support in breaking down learning in to smaller steps until they are able to internalize the learning and be successful on their own. The key is careful observation to know what your particular child needs to be as successful and as independent as possible on their road to adulthood.


Keri Allen, MOT, OTR/L, can be reached at Pediatric Therapy Center, 1940 Bonita Dr., Suite B. Aptos. (831) 684-1804 ext. 1000

Bethany Kientzel can be reached at 831 429-6399.

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