Pride

At the beginning of the school year, I wrote about SillyBilly’s classroom. About how I was unhappy with certain aspects of the pedagogy and curriculum, and how I was worried about competitiveness at such an early age.

Some of those concerns have died down or disappeared. SillyBilly is now fine with D’Nealian handwriting. He still loves school, and the competitiveness is not at all directed at besting others but rather at achieving goals. I volunteer in the class twice a month, and have gotten to know and love the teacher and the children.

But I’ve noticed something. Parents are expected to read books to the kids at home and then the kids have comprehension (and now, vocabulary as well) tests in the classroom. SillyBilly has exceeded the goals (number of tests taken and passing scores) in each scoring period. This trimester his average book level was at third grade, and he has correctly defined words solidly in the third- to fourth-grade range on up to seventh grade!

I was like this as a child, too. I learned to read at age four, and was always at a much higher grade level in reading. I clearly remember in fourth grade going to reading class with the sixth graders, and being bored there, too.

Clearly verbal skills have been a strength for me, and they are for SillyBilly, too. And I’m noticing myself being very proud of him (justifiably so) and not necessarily looking at the big picture. Maybe this kind of pedagogy is fine for him, as it is playing to his strengths. But am I not really paying attention? What are his weaknesses that need to be brought into balance? Am I providing enough physical and artistic activity to offset the intellectual emphasis?

These are hard questions, as Anthropapa and I both tend to be intellectual (in anthroposophical-speak, we emphasize the nerve-sense pole) at the expense of physical activity. Art is somewhere in the middle with us.

It’s always been a question for me: Is it more important to meet the child where he or she is in terms of strengths, or to provide balancing activities? I think the key is to observe, observe, observe — is the child blossoming in areas of strength, or are deleterious effects arising from overemphasis on a certain aspect?

Have you experienced this, either with children or yourself — this need for balance and the need for playing to strengths? What was your answer?

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20 Comments

Filed under Anthroposophy, Deep Thoughts, papa, Parenting, School, SillyBilly, waldorf education

20 responses to “Pride

  1. Yes mama, I have. My oldest daughter is very artistic and intellectual – she must read about 4-6 novels per week. I have asked her to choose one physical activity – she picked Tae Kwon Do. She is much more in tune with her mind and soul than her body. She has trouble cutting, knitting, balancing, etc. In retrospect, I should have worked more to help her come into her own body when she was a young child. I didnt know then what I know now.

    My second daughter is very intense… my worrier, the little mother of the family.. she loves art and (ack must I admit it?) worksheets. She struggles with physical activity and has a very very hard time finding peace within herself. I work very hard to redirect her to physical activity and calming exercises when I see she is lingering too long writing and plugging away. For her, physical housework is good.. she loves to mother so we rake, and garden and sweep. Yoga is good to help her calm down. We breathe a lot.

    And I have to younger ones who will show me who they are more and more each day.

    Balance is key. I need it more in my own life. xoxo

  2. I think you are very wise when you say that the key is to just observe. Your children are lucky to have parents who care so much about the balance that they need in life. I’m very proud of my daughter’s artistic strengths, but I also see a need to provide her with opportunities that stretch her a bit in other areas (sports in her case). I want her to learn the value of working hard to accomplish something by sticking with something that’s difficult.

  3. I have one child on each pole–DS11 is much more in his intellect and balks at almost all types of movement. Luckily, we have found the local SCA where he is able to practice archery and some mild youth combat on a weekly basis.

    DD9 is much more physical and hates to read, though she is technically good at it. I’m trying to get her interested in more math and reading with me, but we are unschoolers so I’m also kind of watching it unfold and not pressuring too much.

    It is hard to find the balance, but I find I naturally strive for it both in myself and with my kids. I also emphasize the nerve-sense pole and we just got a puppy so I make sure to get myself out and walk him every day. I like that.

  4. Mon

    I’m not there yet myself, but I have to go with the balance thing. I’m not ‘holistic’ for no reason, lol. As long as the child enjoys it of course, or is old enough to be willing to openly give things a proper try. No point pushing anything, otherwise there’s resentment. Mind, body and spirit activities are of course infinitely varied. As parents I think we can do two things. Offer balance and be open ourselves to interpretations of that.

  5. Tammy

    I think you have definitely picked up on something, and as you observe you will know what to do with him.

    My oldest daughter loves to read so much that sometimes she forgets (or doesn’t want) to do anything else. I have to remind her to be involved in physical activities. She is my least coordinated (like me) and I wonder sometimes if it’s because we like to be in our heads so much.

  6. Alida

    Like Lisa, my two children differ greatly. I find that the balance automatically happens as I try to meet both their needs. Luke is into reading and math. Loves when things fit neatly into a box. Isabela loves to paint and dance. She prefers to read her own “stories” than to read what is written.

    I usually plan math, reading and music on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Science and Art on Tuesday and Thursday. On Saturday they pick whatever they want to do.

    I’m finding that science is awesome in that it fits both their styles and preference. We also try to intergrate one than one subject. For instance, I try to find math in stories we read. I have them color pictures or make patterns that relate to the math activity etc.

    Physical activity right now consists of running around the house and jumping off the arms of the couch. I just go with it.

    It is a challenge though!

  7. What Silly-Billy has accomplished is something very great to be proud of. Balance is always the question with parenting. Even as Amelia is now 13 I still worry about if I have done the right things for her. We don’t all have Waldorf Education as a choice for our children, even if we did-is it always the best choice? I am sure even if your not the physical sort, the school he is attending is helping to find the balance through physical education. As much as I hate to take my daughter to a million lessons or after school activities choosing one activity-like swimming lessons or ice skating or dancing also help to balance. Finding people in my community who have the strengths I lack have really helped me along the way. Where we live now, it has been challenging to find these people because the population is so spread out. Being with the same teacher in the Waldorf school from first to eighth grade is something I like because it helps to create a close bond between the child and another adult besides the parents. So to cultivate this type of relationship I look for people in the community that I admire and who can share something meaningful with Amelia. I try to have Amelia spend time with them, write letters and make things…
    I don’t know if there is one perfect mold or ideal that we can reach for as parents- Just love them with all you’ve got and hope they turn out OK has been my main philosophy

  8. I recently read a book by Marcus Bunkingham, called The Power of You. He explains that when you work on your strenghts, your weaknesses improve. He uses the analogy of Shaquille O’Neill, the basketball player. He could never make his free shots, and they worked and worked and worked at it, and he barely improved. Under a new coach, he cut back on the free shot practice, and improved his under the basket time — he was very good at playing under the basket already, yet he still improved. And, his free throw percentage went up too, as his under the basket play improved.

    The message in the book, is to work on, and from your strengths, to improve your performance in all areas of life.

    When I read that, I began to question some of my parenting philosophies… maybe I make it too hard for the kids?

  9. Eileen: I can see that you are a keen observer of your children! It’s interesting how you noticed the emotional component to the balance for your second daughter.

    Dawn: If Grace continues with ballet, she will be certainly sticking with something physically difficult that requires a long-term commitment. Those will forces are something lacking in most of us today, so she can only benefit from that kind of activity.

    LisaZ: SCA youth combat sounds just perfect — active yet not too structured and definitely social. A puppy sounds like the perfect antidote to too much intellectual work 🙂

    Mon: Resentment is always a concern, as LisaZ mentioned with reading. Love of learning is the key, in my opinion.

    Tammy: I was like that too as a child, reading voraciously to the detriment of my physical and social health. I was just telling my son today how when I was a girl, I would go nowhere without a book, “just in case”!

    Alida: One reason I love Waldorf methods so much is that they incorporate so many learning styles and subjects together. I guess you could say that separating learning into subjects is arbitrary anyway — there is art in science, and science in art! (There’s been a lot of couch jumping around here too. Sigh.)

    Lisa Anne: They do have PE at school, and I try to get SillyBilly outside as much as possible, even if he’s just messing around with friends. I’d just like to be a better role model in that regard!

    SusieJ: That’s fascinating, though as an old Sacramento Kings fan, the Shaq analogy leaves me a little cold 🙂 I can see how it would be easy as a parent to take for granted the child’s strengths and focus on the weaknesses . . . and how that might be detrimental.

  10. With a child who could happily read for a week straight without once moving to eat or go to the bathroom, I have been there, lol! It is a question I often ask myself, and also: if I want to balance it all out with physical activity, how do I do so in a way my child will happily engage in? I think the answer will continue to change on any given day. I wonder if you and Anthropapa could explore this question more by doing a child study on SillyBilly?

    With my own children, I have been known to announce that they would have to evacuate the house in the next 20 minutes. There is usually some initial resistance, but once they get outside, they will find a “project” (baking bread from mud, dragging the discarded Christmas tree up to their treehouse and decorating it, building shelters out of sticks and leaves and mud) that can easily engage them for some time. And destroy my backyard in the process, lol!

  11. Kirsten: My kids are the same way: sometimes I almost have to literally kick them outside, but then they never want to come back in. Since we’re in an apartment now, we really miss the wonderful backyard we had in New York, but the kids find ways to play wherever they are. The other day I found my daughter had climbed up into a large bush and was happily bouncing herself up and down while lying on a branch. They also love to pretend the little hidey spaces under these big bushes are “houses”. So they do get nice outdoor, physical time even if we don’t have all the accoutrements of a yard.

  12. 3B is clearly a verbal child, and has an increasingly robust imagination to construct ever more complex sentences with. We too, wonder about the brain-body balance, the need to keep all of his being active. Then again, it’s winter and we live in a small condo. He doesn’t always want to go out to play in the biting cold and there’s not too much room to roam in here, so I think he sometimes gets his ya-yas out through mental activity rather than physical. That’s OK for now. I assume that in the spring, he’ll go back to his old ways of never wanting to stay indoors for more than five minutes, partly because that’s how Mama and I are. There is balance and then there are cycles. Where the two come together is on a bicycle, but that’s another story.

  13. Papa B: Yah, we’ve got that going on a bit here too, with a small apartment and often bitterly cold weather. I know some people swear by mini trampolines for winter exercise! We’ve also had a veritable armada of paper airplanes cruising in our indoor airspace.

  14. Hmmmmm.

    I think it might be a question, actually, of healthy discipline.

    I was talking recently to a parent of a very physically active kid who told the child that for one year, he had to take music lessons. He could pick whatever instrument he wanted, and he would be actively involved in choosing a teacher he was comfortable with. He really didn’t want to do it, but he did choose an instrument and a teacher, and a year later, he didn’t want to quit lessons.

    I thought this was pretty admirable. It required a commitment from the child to try something out of his comfort zone, but the child was actively involved every step of the way, and the commitment required was not permanent.

    It seems to me that something similar could be done regarding physical activity and a child who spends a lot of time in his head. Like you can read all you want as long as you play a game outside for an hour in the afternoon — your choice of game, and your choice as to when you go. Something like that.

  15. I just realized that I might have seemed to imply that I don’t think you already have healthy discipline, whereas of course I think you do. 🙂 What I meant to say was that it might be a case of applying those same principles to physical activity, which seems weird to a lot of people … to make it a “rule” that the child must get some exercise.

  16. David: I didn’t infer that from your first comment. But yes, often we have to bring things to consciousness in that way, by making them somewhat structured or with overt agreements. My kids are pretty young for making complex deals or having too much free choice, but we as adults can still create these kinds of situations through our own efforts, like making a regular outside play time, or a regular artistic time in a rhythmic way.

  17. I don’t know the answer to this. I find Kiko very hard to direct towards activities he’s not interested in. He decides what he wants to do and if he senses he’s being deflected, he digs his heels in and won’t be moved. Before I had children, I thought I’d be reading to them constantly but Kiko isn’t much interested in books. If I try to read to him, he grabs the book off me, flicks to the end then tosses it aside. Attempts to focus him often end up as a physical wrestling match so now I’ve backed off and only read to him if he picks up the book and comes to me. His activity level, on the other hand, probably verges on hyperactive, but again he’ll only do what he wants to do. He won’t go on play equipment or play with a ball, for example, he mostly likes to dig holes with his bucket and spade. What I tend to do is just encourage what he’s interested in and feel a bit guilty for that but I can’t see an alternative. Oddly enough, he would never draw but in the past couple of weeks he’s drawn two or three pictures a day and surprisingly good ones (OK, I’m biased!) It seems really strange to me that he went from doing no drawing at all to drawing objects that are almost recognisable – he’s had no practice or guidance whatsoever! Maybe there’s hope that one day he’ll be interested in books…

  18. Helen: I think children make great leaps in their development very, very stealthily sometimes, so that one day — poof! — there is a new capacity that the parent never dreamed of. And I also think that, especially in the very young, children often seek out that which is best for them. So I think you’re right to encourage Kiko in what he chooses, like digging (which is a wonderful activity), while still offering him other things, like drawing, for him to receive when he’s ready. He’ll probably be more interested in books at some point; he’s still young enough that physical activity is more important as a foundation for later intellectual work, in my opinion.

    You mentioned that Kiko doesn’t like playing ball, which reminded me of the dog we had when SillyBilly was born. This dog would not play in any of the “normal” dog ways — no fetching sticks, no chasing balls. He pretty much just wanted to sit by me, or take walks. And I just accepted that as his nature.

    Now why can’t I do that with my kids??

  19. Eve

    I wish I could remember where I recently read an article about great strengths in children–maybe Mensa’s gifted child journal. What it said, though, using much research to support the statement, was that our educational system has sold parents and educators alike the idea that we should strengthen weaknesses in school rather than bolster strengths. Genuis is built on strength.

    I’d say notice the weaknesses, but support him in his passion.

  20. Mine are probably too young to be overly concerned but not too young to need careful attention from us in this area – I think physical activities and confidence in groups are the trickiest areas for dudelet at five – more intellectual activities seem to be things he laps up. As for dudelette – well, she’s only just turned one 🙂

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