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Learning at its Best

Scream when someone takes your spoon!

When I was invited to join this blog, I had lots of ideas what should my first post be about — death to subject silos, put a stop to age segregation, pull parents and even the community into the learning, etc. While I would still like to bring a parent perspective on these important topics, I thought a personal story of learning inspired by my two daughters (age 2 and 6) would be a fitting start!

I recently posted about my experience letting my older daughter join me in some baking and IKEA assembly activities at home on my personal blog. I thought that we, the parents, including anyone else involved in our kids’ learning are guilty of being over protective with our kids — which reminded me of Gever Tulley letting kids use power tools! ;-)

In my post, I reflected that when kids want to take part in something, they’re inviting us to join them in their learning. Unfortunately, our response is to show them how to do things and tell them about doing it themselves at another time — e.g. when they’re older and skilled enough, as if age plays a role in acquiring the necessary skills! This made me realize we need to let them do it when they feel inspired and ready for it, while we stay around to help when asked or jump in if harm is inevitable.

In the past few days I realized there’s more to our behavior than the fear of harm!

Usually, I would take an opportunity to let my older daughter interact with grownups by herself — e.g. when buying a snack from the old lady running the concession in the ice rink where we go for ice skating, or asking to change the balloon she got from the staff at the restaurant we dine out often as she prefers a different color! However, when faced with an unfamiliar environment, I “take charge” and do it for her — as if handling unfamiliar environment is somehow scary or there’s a great risk of failing to do things the right way!

We’re often blamed for raising a spoon-fed generation. Parents do it for various reasons — pressure to make sure our kids conform to social norms, lack of understanding of the skills our kids own, the inconvenience of having to fix/pay for/clean when our kids make a mistake, the risk of facing a crying episode after a failure, etc. Ultimately, we’re driven by the fear of failure — that same fear that prevents us to step outside our own comfort zone interferes with our kids’ learning too!

To make things worse, it is not only parents who are contributing to the spoon-feeding culture. Teachers and others involved in any learning set-up that condemns failure and teaches kids that only correct answers are good answers are holding the spoon too. The reasons may seem different at first sight — expectations around average scores, focusing on the answers instead of the process, the difficulty to measure one’s learning if not following the same approach as other teachers across the country — but ultimately it is the same fear of failure the parents succumb to that prevents teachers from letting off the spoon!

I am inspired by my younger daughter because of the fact that she, at age 2, eats soup entirely by herself, finishing it all without making a total mess — kudos to her daycare for that! She is actually ready to scream at anyone who tries to take the spoon from her to feed her! ;-)

I wish more kids scream when they see someone taking away the opportunity to learn from them!

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About kima

Organizer: http://tedxkidsbc.com. Father. Agent of change. I learn for a living. Curiosity is my passion. Writing is my dream. I believe in the value of social media as a way to meet new people and love double espresso as a way to feel warm with old friends ;-)

Discussion

18 thoughts on “Scream when someone takes your spoon!

  1. We really do need to put our children in the driving seat of their own learning. The fear of failure dominates the behaviours of too many people. However I think we need to be careful to find the balance in making sure that any risks our young people take are thought through in advance. The vest lesson we can teach is how to cope when things don’t work out as we’d hoped and how to adjust our actions the next time. Maybe we should limit our use of the word “fail” and rather focus our own, and the child’s attention on Www and EBI – What Went Well
    ? And it would be Even Better If…

    Posted by jenmcnicol | January 5, 2011, 8:37 am
    • Thanks Jen, I like the idea of WWW and EBI! ;-) Unfortunately, with us adults at least, when someone starts using Even Better If when giving us feedback, we tend to see that as sugar-coded critiquing. :-( Recalling some of my learnings from mentoring and coaching courses, I would suggest adding feedback in forms of questions — try WWW and What (Do You Think) Will Happen If? Regardless of the approach, turning failure from something to avoid into a moment of reflection and learning is surely opening rather than closing doors in our relationship with kids — and anyone else, really.

      Btw, I intentionally left out discussion on risk assessment from the post to keep it short, but I agree with you striking a balance is important. Sometimes, though, the only way to achieve that is through experimenting and adjustment.

      Posted by kima | January 5, 2011, 7:25 pm
  2. Thanks for this. I recently watched my 15 year old son go through airport security for a solo trip to Israel to backpack and understand the politics of the country better (he did not wear his Free Palestine t-shirt at the airport), and I realized this was a defining moment for me as a parent. He was eating the soup by himself, and would have screamed if anyone tried to help him. He loved the trip, and came back poised, confident, years older. OUR fears and doubts hold kids back, not kids themselves.

    Posted by Kirsten | January 5, 2011, 9:46 am
    • Thanks Kirsten, I am glad to hear about your son’s experience. I had a somewhat similar experience myself, when at age 10 my parents let me go on a trip with four other boys — age 12 and 13 — to participate in a scout competition 800km away from home, with no adults to accompany us. I brought a tough case of bronchitis back home at the end, but the train trip, my first visit of a large city, the nights in the tents in the park where the competition went, meeting the kids from different parts of the country, they all left strong imprint in my memory. I never asked my parents how did they feel that week when I was away, but I am always grateful for the trust they put in me! ;-)

      Posted by kima | January 5, 2011, 7:39 pm
  3. I agree, too many parents coddle their kids. I personally know a family, mom, dad, grandma and son. The son is age 9 and I have known this family since the son was in kindergarten. This child is never let out of mom or dad’s sight. Play dates only ever happen at their home where mom or dad hover constantly, they do no allow him to go anywhere with anyone. In fact, when he is dropped off at a birthday party, either mom or dad or both stay the whole time. Even when their son just wants to play on the playground like other kids, mom or dad is right there constantly saying, oh watch out, don’t climb to high, don’t run too fast, stay in eyesight, etc. This child is so neurotic that he cannot function socially, normally like his peers. He has never played a sport, never had the freedom even in his own home to be a kid. It is really quite sad.

    From the time our eldest daughter, who will be 10 in one month, was able to crawl, we encouraged her to explore, to try, and at the parent and baby playgroup and on the playground, we encouraged her to climb, run, play, and engage her peers. By the time she was 2 and half, she was so self confident that she would walk up to kids on the playground two times her age and say “hi my name is Mary, will you play with me”. She has always had friends. We also encourage our daughters to problem solve on their own, especially with friends, their school work and sibling disagreements. We want them to grow up feeling capable, strong, confident with a strong sense of self esteem, all the while with the understanding that we as parents are always here to help when they need it and intervene when things become challenging beyond their abilities. We, unlike the family I have described above have never projected our own fears and doubts onto to our kids, to do so is irreparably damaging in many ways.

    Kima, another excellently written article that I truly enjoed and agree with completely. Very well done.

    Posted by Ema | January 5, 2011, 12:21 pm
    • Thanks Maria! I am glad you came over to check my first post on this blog and would encourage you to check the other posts as there’s a great discussion on most of them with ideas how to improve our kids’ learning.

      I am sorry to hear about the 9 yr old boy being tightly protected from experiencing the world by himself. While I suppose the example is extreme and most parents are more flexible than that, it does provide a picture how thing can turn pretty bad. After reading a lot of research on the topic of nature and nurture, I believe that the family will not be able to shape too strongly the boy’s behavior as he grows up — quite the opposite, their behavior might serve to alienate him from them and make stronger bonds with any friends he might make — but the potential damage from being deprived of learning and experiencing the world by himself is still high.

      On my personal blog, my blogger friend — who actually triggered some of my thoughts above as we were discussing parenting experiences ;-) — suggested her younger boy is a lot more independent from her older one, which is the situation with my daughters too. As I said to her, for those of us with two or more kids, maybe we should take clue from the younger ones and fix some of the mistakes we may have done with the older ones. And for those in education, it may be revealing to visit a preschool or a daycare from time to time and observe how kids learn before we project fear on them!

      Posted by kima | January 5, 2011, 7:52 pm
  4. Okay, we like to address each other by name here, but I’m not sure whether to use Kima or Goran. Let me know, please. :-)

    But, let me tell you how nicely this fits into my lesson plans. I’ve been showing the kids the TED talk by Adora Svitak this week. I’ve also been showing them this song-
    Because We’re Kids – 5000 Fingers of Dr. T-(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QhCwQ8ETdoc) to let them know kids wanting a voice is nothing new. However, the time is right for adults as a group to listen , I think, and your post from a parental point of view is simply an affirmation of what many of my parents are saying.

    My kids want more. . . “They are THIRSTY for more,” a parent said to me yesterday after spending some time with my second grade group in the lab. (He’d been working on Scratch (http://scratch.mit.edu) with a group and had actually gotten in to quadratic equations with a student.) My parent volunteer today (working with a group on architecture) left me instructions to show a specific video tomorrow and show them the Slade site on learning spaces. They plan to make a presentation to our principal about what they’d like to see in OUR learning spaces.

    One of my fifth graders just read this post and said, “This is cool. I wish more parents felt like that–then maybe our schools would change.” He’s one of the kids working in the “Our Voices” project we have going on–where kids do a talk (in the fashion of Adora Svitak’s) about a topic of their choice that they want to promote. I’ll be interested to see the difference between the ones the kids do on their own and the learning spaces one they’ll have guidance and support through.

    I had a situation this morning where I was doing some informal assessment and was building a hypothesis in my mind when the kid blew me away by sharing their thinking–and they had gone in a completely different direction from my observations of them.

    I’ll do a post on that later, but I so honor your not wanting take that spoon from your kid–and you’re absolutely right–teachers need to stop that spoon feeding as well.

    Thanks for joining us–I look forward to more of your stories and connections!

    Posted by Paula White | January 5, 2011, 12:38 pm
    • Hahaha … the majority of my friends call me Kima — which is a nickname I got long time ago from school friends — so feel free to do the same! ;-)

      Paula, I am very honored to take part in the discussion on this blog! I like listening to people’s stories and all of the people in this group have great many interesting stories to tell. ;-) I like stories involving kids in particular, though, so your comment caters to my hopes to help them in any way possible to reach for their dreams.

      First, I am humbled at the feedback from the fifth grader — I could ask for no better reaffirmation about my thoughts how should learning look like! Thank you for sharing that!!

      I am also inspired by your interaction with parents and students at your school. I commend the efforts to bring parents to take part in the classroom and very much like the openness you seem to practice in the communication with the kids! I’ve heard many times that the younger generations are not able to deal with feedback, but my first question to that usually is “did you ever ask feedback from them”? You seem to be doing exactly that, as through asking for feedback, you open doors for giving constructive feedback back, thus encouraging that kind of interaction with the kids.

      As we’re starting with the new year, I am eagerly looking forward to a year full of inspiring stories shared on this blog and great discussion with every member as well as the readers joining us here. I hope to see more parents and students share their thoughts!

      Thanks again for inviting me to join the group!!

      Posted by kima | January 5, 2011, 8:06 pm
  5. Great stuff Kima! This is a refreshing and thought-provoking piece and I whole-heartedly agree with your sentiments here.

    When it comes to giving children the respect they deserve, I find it it a constant struggle to break free from the conditioning introduced by my own upbringing. I imagine this is something a lot of parents would relate to. These days a typical response to our four year old asking us to do something for him is: “You’re quite capable of doing that for yourself. If you find you need help, please ask”. However this is a learned response and not one that came naturally.

    As a result he’s able to do things like make a round of toast or chop vegetables with little or no supervision. He can also do some pretty complex things on a drum-kit while neither me nor my wife can play a lick (He expressed an early interest and so we just gave him a full sized kit and some freedom to explore).

    On reflection though should what we all describe here be thought of as surprising of any child? I’ve recently started feeling that merely thinking of these achievements as exceptional, is to not fully embrace the immense potential that children have; and that nothing they achieve should truly surprise us. Perhaps it’s just that there is a dilution of these kinds of outcomes, possibly a result of the parental fear factor that you describe in your post, which makes them relatively exceptional.

    Sarah Garland has written a series of inspirational children’s books, the constant theme of which is the very topic that you blogged on. Eddie’s kitchen, Eddie’s Toolbox and Eddie’s Garden are the three we own; although there may be others. Worth checking out if you haven’t yet come across them. Also How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish is a fun little book with great ideas on how to positively enable children

    Thanks for sharing such insightful ideas.

    Posted by Kamaljit Longia | January 6, 2011, 5:17 am
    • Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to put your thoughts here Kam!!

      Your reflection over the nature of your response to your son is highly relatable for many parents I suspect. I also like the example with the drum-kit … just because we’re not skilled in something that doesn’t mean we should not let our kids try new stuff … maybe that is a great exercise to avoid the pitfalls of our conditioning, since we’re not really able to “take charge” and neither show them, nor tell them what to do when we lack the knowledge completely … we’re in a similar situation with our older daughter as she goes to French Immersion and none of us knows French beyond bonjour and au revoir ;-)

      Your thoughts about how much awe we feel when our kids do something that upon reflection should not be surprising are really interesting. I can agree with you, but I don’t have an explanation why is that so. On one hand, it seems our own fears makes us see regular achievements as exceptional, as somehow the lack of trust in our own abilities makes our expectations from our kids to be lowered too. On the other, our love lenses may be blowing up those achievements our of proportion, as we feel pride in anything our kids do.

      There is also the possibility that in this society we’ve been conditioned in many ways, through books, courses, talks, to use positive reinforcement — and not only with kids, think of work and the interaction with colleagues — so we tend to focus on praise so much, that we start to actually see many achievements as greater than they are. A kind of a self-illusion if you will.

      Interesting thoughts anyway … I hope to discuss them with you in some offline occasion ;-)

      Btw, thx for pointing to Sarah Garland. I checked her on the Indigo site and she seems to be prolific writer of many books, not just children’s stories. I feel some of her books will find their way into our home ;-)

      As for the parental advice books, I’ve checked the foreword to one of the books a while ago, but haven’t read them. I have to admit I generally try to avoid reading parental advice books after reading The Nurture Assumption and No Two Alike from Judith Rich Harris, who was writing textbooks on the topic of child personality development for many years, but got disillusioned by the state of the “research” in the child psychology field as she found that almost no study had proper control group or checked for various factors like socio-economic situation, inheritance, etc. when drawing causal conclusions from the supposed correlations they have found between parenting approach and children’s behaviour.

      After reading her books and other stuff on how the mind works and similar, I am trying to stray away from sounding too advice giving myself and prefer to ask questions that will provoke thoughts in other people. It seems to me that the best we can do as parents is to ask questions — both questions to help us reflect on our own actions and questions that will poke the already curious minds our kids have to let them explore the world around by themselves, asking help only when needed.

      Thx again for joining the discussion on this blog!

      Posted by kima | January 6, 2011, 7:59 pm
  6. Kima, thank you for framing independence in such an apt metaphor.

    Much of what you write encourages me to delve deeper into arts education in my classroom. I think traditionally trained teachers don’t look critically at how much they do for students in pursuit of a well-managed classroom. It’s ridiculously easy to slip into spelling for children, suggesting revisions, pointing out desired models, explaining how “you” would do something: I think it would be more obvious to us that we are limiting student learning if we were actually taking brushes, instruments, and/or sculpting media out of their hands.

    School shouldn’t be about exacting expected and desired results from children year after year in an exhausting march towards graduation. Rather, education – inside schools and out – should be structured for discovery, surprise, and delight at what students learn that we adults would never have imagined.

    All the best,
    C

    Posted by Chad Sansing | January 8, 2011, 3:53 pm
    • Thanks Chad,

      your point for arts education as an example where limiting learning through spoon-feeding is obvious is very interesting. It is easier to spot the “spoon” if it is an object you need to act on to take “charge”! It makes me think how many times I as a parent have limited my children’s learning without even noticing — from completing sentences before they finish, to using suggestive language :-( This raises the bar for self-awareness for me now! ;-)

      We also need to think of the problem at a wider scale, i.e. how the community might make the same mistake. My favorite — not because I like it! — example of this is the difference in children festivals in North America and some European countries like Italy and Macedonia (my home country). To me, a children’s festival is an event where children get on stage and sing, dance, act. Apparently, at least here in Vancouver, we think it’s better to put adults on stage to entertain kids, assuming they’ll pay attention from the audience and get inspired to pursue music, dance or similar as they grow up. Just check http://www.childrensfestival.ca/festival_events/daily_schedule.php to see what I mean!

      /Kima

      Posted by kima | January 9, 2011, 4:52 am
  7. I love this: “Ultimately, we’re driven by the fear of failure — that same fear that prevents us to step outside our own comfort zone interferes with our kids’ learning too!”

    I am blessed with parents who have always let me follow my heart. At 20 I got on a plane to live in Senegal for 4 months. They never questioned me and let me explore my passion. At 17 they allowed me attend an alternative school at which I spent 4 days a week traveling on my own to NYC for an internship. I gained independence and strength and I have rarely ever had to ask them for anything because of the skills I gained as a teen and a child.

    I’m so thankful for your contributions to the blog.

    Posted by marybethhertz | January 8, 2011, 7:44 pm
    • Thanks Mary Beth!

      When you say you love the quote, I assume you use “love” in the same way I used “favorite” in my reply to Chad! ;-)

      I am happy to read about your parents giving you the freedom to explore and gain independence as a teen and a child! I hope by sharing stories like yours and the other readers mentioned in the comments, we can inspire more parents and teachers reflect on how their actions might limit the experiences and the learning opportunities for the kids!

      I am happy to be part of the group on this blog!

      /Kima

      Posted by kima | January 9, 2011, 5:00 am
  8. I would say, great post to kick off your debut on a great platform.. ! Kima, sometimes little ones make for great teachers. And in our case, our little ones are leading us on a great journey :D I think this post will be a great addition to your original post! Congratulations and hope you write more and more.. Boy, I will not call myself a multi-tasker again, I promise ;)
    Have a wonderful day!
    Rachana.

    Posted by Heart | January 9, 2011, 12:01 pm
    • Thanks Rachana!

      I agree on the journey — one full of learning indeed — and I am most grateful for that! ;-)

      What I really love about engaging with this group is that unlike the feeling I usually have when entering a school building, where parents don’t really appear to be embedded in the system — quite the opposite in my experience, here everyone is welcome, as long as participation helps advance the discussion. I hope you will contribute your 2 cents worth from time to time, both as a parent and as a great storyteller!

      /Kima

      Posted by kima | January 10, 2011, 1:00 am

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