The Guided Participation Relationship (GPR) is characterized by a special types of authentic collaborations that occur regularly between a more experienced “Guide” and a less experienced Apprentice. In these collaborations, both Guide and Apprentice consciously or unconsciously agree to de-emphasize the endpoint of the collaboration and perceive their primary collaborative goal as facilitating the growth and development of the Apprentice’s Dynamic Intelligence. In typical development, during collaborations, Guides primarily focus on selecting optimal “guiding actions” to provide Apprentices moments of opportunity for cognitive, emotional & social discovery and elaboration (expansion of prior discoveries). Apprentices actively seek to Appropriate (take advantage of) some of the guide’s mental state.

List of Activities

For Proper Guided Participation to be in place we asses the following:

  1. Parents are no longer over-reacting to their child’s distress (or stresses of siblings), as well as their passivity, over-compliance, sudden behavioral inaction (e.g., flopping), protests, and angry words (e.g., wearing noise canceling headphones and iPod), unproductive, “odd” actions (e.g., “stimming”), sudden emotional disconnection, avoidance, and rejection. Parental self-regulation and emotional tone are critical here.
  2. Guide is only using small amounts of simple, slow, and deliberate self-directed speech in a strategic manner.
  3. Parents understand they have a right to hold on to a child without dragging him/her.  They are able to do this. “I can’t make you do anything, but I’m not going to let go.” Usually to stay with a child a parent can say one of the following: I move with you/I move against you/I move sideways/I move up/I move down/I move around.  In other words, you are in charge, calmly, quietly and the child knows without words but simple body language that you are the boss.
  4. Parents are slowing down their movements so that they create a deliberate sequence of actions between them and their child, where the child can perceive they are in a contingent sequence.  Parents’ actions are clearly interpretable as responses to the child but are not seen as complying with or imitating the child.

Once you are aware of and are working on these (we, as parents are always working on these) and we are engaged with our child there are 4 things that you are always thinking bout in an interaction:

Dynamic evaluation of where is the child’s learning edge. Where can I push him/her (cognitively, socially, emotionally). This is called the Zone of Proximal Development and there has been a lot of brilliant work written by an author named Vygotsky (worth a read). In order to know the EDGE, you must really know your child’s strengths and weaknesses but NOT overcompensate. This is the one place where most guided interactions go astray.

This is where a lot of intuition and some luck come into play as well as carefully:

FRAMING the interaction for success. You do not have to have a written document every time you interact. That would be unnatural but framing like a picture frame in your mind where you are about to approach an interaction, you know your child’s abilities, you think about the imaginary box around the interaction (how much time would be good, how much do I need to talk, instruct, how close do I need to be, who has what role, how am I going to: SCAFFOLD supports (physical, emotional, pace) that help the child succeed and knowing when to slowly and carefully pull out the support (move it faster, expect more of a role, see if child can get role reversal). Inability to pull out scaffold leads to overcompensation. So for example you decide to bake bread and the child has never actually put something in a hot oven but you think he/she is capable. You role model use of oven mitts, opening the oven, pulling out the rack, placing the bread pan on the rack, closing the oven. You might do this once with the child together…you both hold and walk toward oven and do it all together, softly instructing if necessary. Then when the bread is ready to come out you gently ask if the child would like to try removing the bread from the oven on his own. If he says no then you do it together again but this time maybe just he opens the oven door alone and pulls the rack out alone and you both pull the hot bread out. Here you have pulled out some of the supports and left some more work, accomplishments to your child.

At this point, it is really important to: 

SPOTLIGHT In your on-line assignments I will include a “phrase” to remember when you are doing an activity. This phrase should help you to remember what to scaffold. For example in the bread example above you may be working on building mental bridges of communication with your child (to build collaboration, dynamic thinking, role competence) so as you approach the oven you nod to the child to open the oven (and I have given you the phrase of “building bridges” to keep in your mind) and the child opens it on a nod, right at that moment of competence (he gets, takes on the new role of opening a scary/hot oven) you remark/highlight “wow you are brave”. The remark, spotlight happens right at the moment of competence where you feel that the child has moved to a new level of initiation and competence.


As a guide, you are always looking for OPPORTUNITIES:

  • Some element has changed or new element added in a manner that renders prior ways of thinking, responding or reacting to a problem, task, person, object or setting no longer sufficient.
  • No immediate substitution, alternative response or solution is available in his repertoire.
  • The necessary emotional and mental support is available to successfully manage the problem or situation without any adverse consequences.

Transferring Wisdom “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” – Chinese Proverb This week observe your interactions with your child. Consider the goals (i.e. Compliance vs Thoughtfulness, Holiday Memories vs Mastery, Repeating discrete sequence or capturing the essence.) of the interaction as well as what the interaction looks like. Do you see elements of Guided Participation? If so, which ones, if not, what parts are missing?