Yesterday, a toy arrived for Adrian in the post. It was a cheap, impulse buy that I'd seen in a Facebook ad and I knew that he'd love it.
It was in a tin (always a winner!), it had numbers (he's very interested in numbers at the moment, noticing them everywhere, asking me to read them out, trying to work out what 2 and 2 makes, etc) and it had coloured sticks. So while I was busy in the garden, I told him that there was a parcel for him and let him open it.
Five minutes later, he's throwing a tantrum surrounded by numbers and coloured sticks, insisting that he doesn't like his present and that I should "throw it away".
While my inner voice was thinking "brat" and I tried to explain to him why I wouldn't be throwing it away (as I retrieved 3 coloured sticks from the bin - "hey, at least he's learning to tidy up after himself!"), I was also mentally berating myself for not being with him to support him while he explored his new toy. The frustration of not knowing how to play with it had kicked him into 'panic zone' even though I knew that the toy is within his 'stretch zone', also known as Zone of Proximal Development, or Flow State.
On reflection, as we parents all know well, our kids' stretch zone tends to shrink when HALTed (Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired (& Toilet). Adrian had been affected by at least three of these: it was late in the afternoon before our evening meal and I was trying to fob him off with a toy while finishing in the garden.
Well we live and learn. The toy has disappeared for a few weeks and when I saw this graphic while putting together the resources for this Saturday's Understanding Preschoolers workshop (www.understandingkids.co.uk/preschoolersworkshop in case you fancy joining us), I had a visual reference to remind myself why FLOW was not what Adrian had needed at that moment. (For a HALTed kid, 'low challenge' matched with 'high skill' (ie. something they can already do well and easily) would have been much more likely to buy me those precious few minutes to tidy up the garden).