How Do I Make Sure that My Child is Learning Enough?
Today’s post was written by Julie Christensen, Senior Writer at Bright Horizons, and mom to four:
I went to my monthly book club recently and the subject turned to our kids. More specifically, to what our kids are doing and learning in school. One nine-year-old is studying Latin and memorizing the periodic table (seriously). Another particularly creative child just won a state art contest. Several moms talked about their children’s challenges – learning the multiplication tables or working with a disability.
As I left the meeting, I thought about my own kids. I wondered if I was doing enough, if they were learning enough. I was a teacher for 20 years and yes, even with that professional experience – I have these doubts. Don’t we all? Self-doubt seems to be endemic to parenting because we care so much and want so much to get it right for our kids.
As I drove home, the teacher side of me clicked on and I gave myself the pep talk I’ve given to literally hundreds of parents over the years. It goes something like this:
Development is a journey, not a race. Yes, I know that seems like a cliché’, but it’s true. One of my children has autism and dyslexia. I’ve watched him slowly, so slowly, gain the skills he needs – not at the same rate as the children around him, but at his own pace. I’ve had to tell myself a million times that it doesn’t matter when we arrive, but that we arrive.
Children are naturally curious. They intuitively want to learn. If we give them opportunities, they’ll almost always flourish. Of course, there are some obstacles that sometimes hinder that learning. For us, it’s too much t.v., too much stuff, and too many activities. The tough thing about it is that you can’t just say, “No t.v.” or “Let’s get rid of the stuff.” It’s like trying to eat a healthier diet. You have to replace the less desirable activities with something better. It takes intention and forethought, and let’s face it, some days, I’m tired or distracted or lazy.
But we keep trying. For us, the golden ticket has been two things: reading more and getting out in nature more. When we do those two things, our kids seem to light up. They’re happier, they’re more interested in learning, and their play is more imaginative.
Kids can tell us what they need. With my four kids, I’ve had the experience of having the child who has achieved — and gone above — every expectation and goal on a teacher’s checklist. I’ve also had the experience of having the child who straggles far behind. In both cases, the question to ask isn’t, “Is my child learning enough?” but “Where is my child now? What obstacles does he face? What are his strengths? How can I help him get to the next level?”
It’s easy to get stressed out over achievement – or a lack of it – and become super focused on those school checklists. This strategy usually backfires though, causing anxiety for both us and our kids. Instead, I’ve had to slow down and make my focus the child in front of me. He can only learn as fast as he can learn. More important, though, I hope he’s having some fun. I hope we’re building relationships, and I hope he’s discovering that the world is a big, exciting place full of interesting things to explore.
Julie Christensen, mom to four, lives in Colorado where she writes for Bright Horizons and tries to corral the chaos at home.
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