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A Just-Right Challenge

A child screeched at me from across the room. “HEEEEELP, Miss Erin! I want YOUUUUU to do it.” She wanted me to use the hand broom to sweep some spilled animal crackers into a dustpan.” I walked over to her calmly, slowly. I deliberately took my time, so as not to reinforce her bellowing with an immediate response. Instead, I analyzed the situation and decided that her struggle with sweeping was a just-right challenge—one that she should be given the space and time to master. This meant that I needed to suppress my nurturing impulse to rescue her from her own frustration and, instead, let her figure out the motor planning sequences needed to clean the floor.

Linda Harrison defines a just-right challenge much better than I on her “Linda's Daily Living Skills” blog:

A just-right challenge is an activity that is just slightly above what a person is currently able to easily do.  It is an activity the person is able to do, but it requires a little bit of a stretch. It is ideal for learning new daily living skills because it means that a person's strengths and abilities are used optimally, and independence with tasks is maximized.

A just-right challenge is a very careful balance between the challenge of the task and the skills of the person.  If the challenge of a task is too high and the skills of a person are too low, frustration is usually the result. If the challenge of a task is too low and the skills of the person are too high, boredom is usually the result.  However, if the challenge of the task is equal to the skills of the person, he or she will experience a state of "flow" which is a motivating, engaging, and positive experience.

Every skill has a just-right challenge. For this loud, little gal, it was sweeping the floor. The art and science of teaching means finding the just-right challenge in every lesson we plan.

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