Thursday, September 9, 2010

2. Work for Improvement, Not Perfection

Part two of Encouraging our Children is work for improvement, not perfection.  In this entry, Schafer argues that parents need to reconceptualize how they encourage childrens' achievements.  I must admit that this one seems a bit touchy-feely to me.  I am a perpetually frustrated perfectionist and I generally have high expectations for others, including my children. 

But I don't think Schafer is really saying parents should lower their expectations, or at least I hope not.  No.  I think she is saying parents should take a different approach to how we encourage our children to achieve the best they can.  And she has some simple advice for doing it.  Essentially her advice is to encourage what the child has done, rather than what he hasn't done and to encourage the child to do more within reason.  It reminds me of Vygotsky's zone of proximal development in which the parent or teacher pushes the child or student just beyond their understanding, but not so far as to stifle any learning.  Of course, it's more complex than that, but it makes sense to me as a parent and a teacher. 

On a more practical level, I like to use the example of climbing a mountain.  If one looks to the top of the mountain from the bottom, it looks daunting -- enough so that a novice hiker might quit.  But, if the hiker simply keeps her eye on the trail a few feet in front of her (e.g. a reasonable distance to climb), she will find herself on the summit before she knows it.  This has certainly been the case for me when I've biked up steep hills.

So with my boys I am going to try to remember to encourage what they have done and not to correct or fix what they have haven't done or done well, especially when it involves something with the rest of the family, such as cooking.  I am going to try to offer jobs to my boys that push their skills, even though it may mean the food isn't perfect or they make a bigger mess, so they can learn by experimentation with cooking as well as developing their fine motor skills. 

This morning, before I had even reviewed Schafer's book (writes a proud father), I was working with Twin M. on making and freezing sausage patties.  It became a great lesson in freezing and cooking.  First, we discussed why we flatten the patties, why we want them thin (they cook faster), and why it is important to be careful with them so they freeze flat.  Then Twin M. got to practice flattening patties and placing them gently in a freezer bag.  (Full disclosure: I did "perfect" some of his patties by flattening them a bit more -- shame on me.)  He was happy to help prep for one of his favorite foods and I was happy to have the focused help.  Hopefully there will be lots more moments like that one. 

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