My son loved numbers from an early age and I enjoyed watching him learn on his own terms. He painstakingly taught himself how to write the numerals on his blackboard, but he struggled with the number “5.”
I decided to step in and give him a short and cheerful tip about what was tripping him up.
He stopped writing numbers for a week.
When my daughter became interested in writing I knew better than to intervene. She once asked me to help her write her name. I tried to hold my tongue, but I couldn’t help giving her tips as we worked together.
Lo and behold, she responded well to my tips, did a great job writing, and was so proud of herself!
Every child learns differently and needs different support along the way.
That’s easy to say when we’re looking back and things have turned out well. It’s quite another story when the future is uncertain.
This morning I watched my two-year-old coast around on his pedal-less bike, my three-year-old struggle with her real bike, and my five-year-old zip around like a pro.
Seeing the stages of learning to ride a bike side-by-side made it strikingly clear how short each phase is.
The same daughter who likes writing lessons has resisted all help in learning to ride a bike. It’s taken all my strength to hold back and let her do it her way. I had hoped she’d learn to pedal this summer, but fall is at our doorstep and she’s still only sitting on the bike and pushing with her feet along the ground.
Suddenly I notice she has one foot on a pedal. The other is suspended in the air and touches down only occasionally. She quickly improves her technique and can soon bike one-footed the whole length of the lot, never once touching down with her left foot.
Amazing! “Surely biking with one foot is harder than with two,” I think to myself. “All she needs is a little encouragement to put her left foot on the pedal and she’ll discover it’s even easier!
“I’m right,” I assure myself. “But I don’t have to say so.” I congratulate her on her one-foot biking skills and with great self-control manage to leave it at that.
Why is it so hard to trust that she’ll find the way? I know from watching my first child that the learning time is over and gone so quickly. What’s the rush?
Each time a child learns something on his own, it is a personal victory. Why diminish that victory by intervening too much?
The time spent waiting for our kids to learn the next skill feels long because the future is uncertain. It’s not that I want to rush through the process, but the discomfort of uncertainty compels me to take charge.
There may be times when we need to insist on our way, but I’m starting to suspect that our kids need our intervention far less than we think.
Can we trust the path of learning that our kids choose?
We might not be able to answer the question once and for all, but we can challenge ourselves to have more respect for our children’s way of learning and have more humility in sharing our superior skills.
We can hold back a little longer before we jump in with our own ideas. We can respond positively when we’re asked for help, rather than insisting a child do something on his own that he doesn’t feel ready for.
We can stay in the suspense of uncertainty a little longer and keenly observe the situation before we act. Experience will teach us if we can trust how our kids learn.
After an hour of one-footed biking, the grandparents arrived and my daughter wanted to show off her new skill for them.
Scarcely had her grandfather noticed her unusual style when she put her other foot on the other pedal . . .
And she rode that bike.