Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Embracing the Pain

Today D1 and D2 wanted me to write them books they could read. I was obliging and wrote "D2's Book" on the cover of his, with what I thought was a quite well-done caricature of D2 on the front.

He picked up the book and burst out laughing. "Why is there a monkey on my book?" he said.

OK, maybe not so good.

People often assume that if you believe in children learning naturally and through self-directed means that you want learning to be easy and fun for them and they will never have to work hard.

One glance at the mass of bruises on the twins' heads should be enough to remove that notion. Natural, self-directed learning is often painful, hard work. Nothing worth having comes easy. Every baby who has learned to roll over knows this.

Children don't suddenly stop becoming capable of self-directed hard work to learn what they need to know just because they turn five. If they see the importance of something and they are developmentally ready to attempt it, they will work hard at it (though perhaps on their own terms rather than a preprogrammed schedule). And unless they are exceptionally easy-going, they will sometimes get frustrated, cranky, have off days when they seem to have forgotten everything and sudden bursts where they zoom ahead.

I remember when D1 was learning to draw. I certainly didn't tell her she had to; it was something she wanted to do. She'd sit in front of a piece of paper because she wanted to draw, then would start wailing, "But I don't know HOW to draw! YOU draw it for me." But after many months, she started to figure out ways to draw the things she wanted to in ways that were satisfying to her, and now she can happily draw for hours.

Now the same thing is happening with reading. "I want to read this!" "But I don't know how!" And my helpful comments are not always appreciated. "Hmm . . . try actually *looking* at the word."

Growing and learning is a joyful journey, no doubt, but like most journeys there will be blisters and bug bites along the way. And with four children always learning something new, that makes for a lot of wails of despair around here.

I guess it's a good thing my drawings amuse them.


the Joneses said...

The trouble with trusting a child to pursue his interest with zeal is that at about age five something does set in: Laziness. Maybe it's just our family (we've got lots of laziness genes to pass on), but my kids -- especially Stuart -- can really want something but just as easily decide it's too much work to accomplish. Which is why I still rely on drills and practice work despite wails of reluctance. And I don't even know now if this comment is related to the point of your post because it's been several days since I actually read it.

-- SJ

Queen of Carrots said...

Heh, I do that too with posts.

I don't know for sure about laziness. I know there are times of more intense learning and times of backing off, but I don't think that's laziness so much as the natural pattern of growth. I also know there are times when she will say she wants to read with me and then just start guessing at random; in that case at this stage I will put the book away. (Or at least threaten to.) If she were older, I might take a different tack, but I just don't think it's necessary for a five year old to be reading if she doesn't want to. And I'm pretty sure she will have it well in hand by next year whether she practices regularly or not. But then, reading is not especially hard for her (nor, apparently, is it going to be for D2); for a child for whom it was naturally more challenging, I might have to take a different approach.

One certainly does encounter young people who have not worked hard to learn certain essential skills and there are some skills that can't be learned in a crash course because you suddenly decided to go to college after all. (Logical thinking and clear expression, for two.) I don't want to let things slide such that I wind up with a fifteen-year-old who can't form a coherent paragraph. So I plan to be on guard against genuine laziness. However, at this house, so far it's only turned up when the dishwasher needs unloaded . . .