Saturday, August 7, 2010

it's not a competition

Saw a friend of mine last weekend at a birthday party and she said she had a question for me. She had read my blog post that mentioned Frances' writing the alphabet and wanted to know if it was something we'd worked with her on, if she initiated interest herself, etc. My friend had recently taken her son for his 4-year-old check up and the doc scolded her because her son wasn't writing yet. Later in the visit when they discussed some other developmental strength, the doctor said, "See? You're doing some things right."

Ack! This makes me nuts. It's a wonderful example of the pressure we put our kids under. WHO CARES if he's not writing yet? He's only four! If he were eight and not writing, then perhaps someone should take a closer look at what's going on. But it's not a competition!!!!! It's the very same thing as parents who brag that their kid walked at 7 months. WHO CARES?!

Kids are different. They develop at different rates. I have a friend whose son didn't walk until he was 22 months old. (He's now four and walks just fine.) When I asked her if this had worried her at the time, she said no, that he was very verbal and she just trusted that he would do things in his own time. She's a wise woman, and an exception, I think. There's so much pressure for our children to be successful in the very same ways, and so much assumption that we parents are doing something wrong when they are not. (This doctor, someone who should know better, pointed this out to my friend specifically--"See? You're doing some things right!" Funny that she'd meant it as an encouragement, because it actually was a condemnation. Which, now that I think about it, pisses me off even more--even if this child were delayed somehow, the doctor assumed this was the fault of the parent, and not the result of many many different and complicated factors that make up this particular child.)

I just wanted to put that out there. It made me wish I hadn't mentioned Frances's alphabet writing in the first place. And for the record, her dad has been working with her on it, and she did initially show interest that led him to work with her (mostly she wanted to use the computer, so they started spelling things on it, which led her to writing...) and at her school they do no letters or reading at all, which means she's felt no pressure from that direction. I mention the school because I firmly believe that teaching letters and reading in preschool is a detrimental thing for those many children who are not yet interested. It just makes them feel pressure and many times eventual dislike for reading and writing. Frances will be attending a Waldorf school in the fall and the Waldorf philosophy specifically holds off on any reading until age seven. I'm for it, but maybe it's easy for me to say that since my kid loves to read and write.

At the risk of sounding like a Waldorf advertisement (which I don't intend to be), I'm going to include a response from the website linked above about the question of why Waldorf teaches reading so late (I just happen to agree with them strongly here...):

"There is evidence that normal, healthy children who learn to read relatively late are not disadvantaged by this, but rather are able quickly to catch up with, and may overtake, children who have learned to read early. Additionally, they are much less likely to develop the "tiredness toward reading" that many children taught to read at a very early age experience later on. Instead there is lively interest in reading and learning that continues into adulthood. Some children will, out of themselves, want to learn to read at an early age. This interest can and should be met, as long as it comes in fact from the child. Early imposed formal instruction in reading can be a handicap in later years, when enthusiasm toward reading and learning may begin to falter.

"If reading is not pushed, a healthy child will pick it up quite quickly and easily. Some Waldorf parents become anxious if their child is slow to learn to read. Eventually these same parents are overjoyed at seeing their child pick up a book and not put it down and become from that moment a voracious reader. Each child has his or her own optimal time for "taking off." Feelings of anxiety and inferiority may develop in a child who is not reading as well as her peers. Often this anxiety is picked up from parents concerned about the child's progress. It is important that parents should deal with their own and their child's apprehensions.

"Human growth and development do not occur in a linear fashion, nor can they be measured. What lives, grows, and has its being in human life can only be grasped with that same human faculty that can grasp the invisible metamorphic laws of living nature."

My truest hope is that I am able simply to see my children for who they are, to allow them to be who they are before the pressure of who they are told, by other people and by my own expectations, they must be. One of my jobs, as I see it and hard though it may be, is to protect them from those expectations and to remind myself--and them--that they are more than the sum of their abilities. They are worlds unto themselves. 


Kristina said...

I totally agree with you Cali. It seems young children are too often burdened with the pressure to "perform," not for the benefit of their own development, but to boost Mom and Dad's own egos. Too much time in childhood is wasted on what would be best learned later. I can't help but imagine how differently it might have turned out if in the past few months you had been busy forcing Frances to try to add or tie her shoe, perhaps because the neighbor's kid can. You (and she) could have completely missed the signs of her natural readiness and interest in letters and writing. Seems like Waldorf has the right idea, as do you.

Melusine said...

I really agree with you. And I am so glad your kids are going to be attending a Waldorf school. They are the BEST! (I wish I could have had that option for Elijah.)

andrea said...

I really loved this post and totally agree although I do get sucked into the pressure of expectations.
My kids are so vastly different and thrive in different ways for sure.
I love the Waldorf Philosophy too and am also a fan of Multiple Intelligences! Each child learning in multi-facited ways.
What an inspiring read.


SLK said...

well put, Cali!