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November 16, 2018
I think parenting requires flexibility more than any other trait. I’ve heard my friends without kids confidently remark about this or that thing that they’ll do with their kids, and I think to myself, “you’re making the classic new/non-parent mistake of assuming that your kids will want all the things that you want.” People who don’t yet have kids tend to think that they’ll just tell the kids what to do, and the kids will do those things. They assume that whatever disciplinary scheme they come up with will be up to the task. They may even already know exactly what disciplinary scheme they’re going to use.
As the wise Field Marshal Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke once said, “No plan survives contact with the enemy.” I think there are as many parenting strategies as there are children. You’d think your kids would be similar enough to each other that you’d only need one strategy to cover all of them, but you’d probably be wrong.
It’s unlikely that whatever strategy you use to parent your children will be the one that you were planning on using before you decided to have children.
So, if I’ve made it clear how important I think flexibility is, I’ll move on to talking about teaching young children. Did I mention flexibility is important?
When people think of teaching children, they imagine a classroom or a Mary Poppins kind of scenario where the children listen quietly and respectfully as the authority figure imparts the lessons. Never mind the fact that children younger than 3 or so almost never listen quietly and respectfully for more than seconds at a time, all children have fairly limited attention spans. Sure, children older than 3 are capable of listening intently for whole minutes, but they very often don’t do it on command.
Our 5 year old seems about as respectful and attentive as 5 year olds get, but even he won’t last longer than a few minutes if it’s not something he actually wants to be doing.
In the midst of the frustration of trying to teach a young child something that they don’t want to learn are the golden lessons about teaching, though! The first is that you should pick your battles. Even though most kids won’t sit still and listen on command, almost all of them will sit still and listen at some point, and that’s when you strike!
Of course it’s important to get kids comfortable with the idea of doing some things they don’t want to be doing. Everyone needs to do their chores to make sure the family thrives, and sometimes life requires things of us that we just don’t want to do. But we also believe that it’s easier and far more effective to convince kids to want to learn than it is to make all learning like a chore that they need to do.
For example, our 5 year old is really into games. These games often require reading, spelling, and arithmetic, just by virtue of their being quests, inventory, and currency. Other than kind of silly things like shapes and colors, basically the only thing in the curriculum for 5 year olds is learning reading, writing, and arithmetic. Brilliant! He can play games almost as much as he wants, and he’s constantly learning exactly what he should be learning for his grade level.
Our 3 (almost 4) year old loves to draw, so we try to incorporate her learning into her drawing sessions. We’ll ask her to draw letters and numbers and spell names, etc. She loves to draw enough that she already has alarmingly good penmanship, and she’s taken to just randomly spelling out words she’s seen on Youtube without any prompting.
Most of all, we’re trying to instill a love of learning. We constantly praise the kids of learning new things. When they get frustrated, we constantly remind them that messing up is an important part of learning, and we just need to try to get better. Our whole goal is to make learning a pain-free process. It’s already frustrating enough to be bad at things.
Indeed, being bad at the things is the main reason that most adults don’t learn new skills. As we get older, it’s embarrassing to be bad at things. But that’s silly, of course all beginners are bad at things. If the alternative is that we never learn new things at all, then it’s important to get comfortable being bad at stuff.
I’ve written before (here) about the amount of time kids spend in school. In that post, I also wrote about how long it would take a bright and devoted child to cover that same material, if they had access to all of the material and a dedicated parent around to guide them through the hard parts. My admittedly very unscientific estimate is that a smart, obsessed child could cover basically the whole K-12 curriculum in something like a couple years.
How? The Hell? You may ask. I think motivation is the answer. The reason school K-12 takes 13 years is because we basically have to drag kids through the whole thing. The kids at the top of the class are bored half the time by how slow things are going, and the kids at the bottom of the class either can’t keep up or don’t want to be there at all. Kids have to get up too early and spend every evening doing homework. It’s no wonder that so many teenagers just try to do the bare minimum to achieve whatever credentials they need in order to go to whatever university they (and their parents) think is appropriate for them.
I think getting the kids to want to learn is the only thing that matters. Any kid who loves learning can easily make it through the K-12 curriculum in far fewer than 13 years. The only requirement is that they don’t have to be dragged through it.
My only evidence is that so far, our kids enjoy learning, and the two oldest are a year or two ahead of their respective grade levels. When the kids want to learn something, it’s impossible to stop them. Everyone focuses on teaching, but it seems to us like the focus should be on getting the kids to want to learn. When they want to learn, everything else takes care of itself.
Raising Abundance is mainly a daily personal journal to look back on while we live our unconventional lives with the additional hope of helping others do better and get more out of life.