The Delicate Balance In Childhood Learning
How I learned to balance motivation and inspiration while teaching my child.
To let the child do as he likes when he has not yet developed any powers of control is to betray the idea of freedom. — Maria Montessori.
Everyone knows that learning usually starts with motivation and inspiration. They are the twin matches that lights up a child’s brain to want to discover more in the topic that he’s studying. From a young age, my son showed me that he’s intrinsically motivated to perform physical activities. If you can imagine an active child who is a monkey that climbs, jumps, and performs amazing physical feats, multiply that by 10, you have my son. He’s endlessly curious about exploring the universe with his body that it was almost impossible to keep him safe in the first 3 years of his life. But, I did it. As his mother, I’m super proud that he has not hurt himself in a major way yet.
I have learned a huge lesson from my son’s intrinsic motivation. As a parent, I am his teacher in the early years. When he’s intrinsically motivated to do something, my job is not to push him further.
My job is to pull him back ever so slightly.
When a child is this young, it’s difficult to handle the emotions that come from what I would call a “creative frenzy”. When my son’s performing more and more difficult physical fiats, his brain is thinking of all the ways to move his body to complete these physical fiats.
It is a creative process.
When his brain and his body are both fired up on all cylinders, it’s easy to get carried away. He used to be quite fussy when he was a baby after an overly active session of physical learning. Now, at 3 years old, he would clutch his legs or hold his hand on his chest. Sometimes, he would go through a massive meltdown for no reason.
This is what I would call a meltdown from my son’s inability to handle the emotions from his “creative frenzy”. The “creative frenzy” comes from his own overactivity.
Lately, I’ve noticed that when he holds his hand on his chest, he’s feeling his own heart beating too fast. This is a sign of anxiety in a child. When he clutches his legs and cries for me to hold me, he’s actually experiencing leg cramps. He couldn’t articulate those signs to me when he was a baby. I just dealt with a very fussy baby.
Now I can see the signs. Now, I found the cause. Now, I’ve learned to pull back.
There’s a climbing structure in the playground that we frequent. At the age of 3 years old, my son finally conquered this structure. It’s a rope climbing course that is twice as high as a regular slide. The slide that comes off the structure is steep. It propels my son like a cannon. The momentum often causes young kids to fall to the ground. But, my son has learned to land on his feet.
This structure has been the point of contention for my son and me for some time at this playground. I was adamant that he shouldn’t try it until he’s ready. He was, in fact, ready at the age of 2 and half years old. He wanted to climb it with my help.
But I didn’t help him. I told him, “If you can climb by yourself up there, then fine. Mommy can not help you.”
My thought is that he needed more cognitive abilities to get himself out of troubling situations when he’s on top of the slide. For instance, if there was another kid up there, he needed more cognitive abilities to wait for his turn so that one of them doesn’t end up in a dangerous position on top of the slide. He also needed to understand how to come down, where to find his footing even when he’s stuck in a strange place on top of this rope course.
All of that requires what I would call his 3 years old brain.
That is why I made him wait and held him back. I wanted him to work on his skills more. Specifically I wanted him to work on his cognitive skills to be able to climb this rope course.
This week, my son was ready. He told me he was ready by climbing all the way up a more difficult rope course on the same playground. I was very scared for him when he started the climb.
But, not only did he do it himself, he was stuck at various points of his climb, he still worked out all his difficulties with ease and completed the climb.
I watched him solve his climbing problems by changing his physical positions, finding alternative places to gather his footing, and finding ropes to hold onto at various parts of course.
Seeing his creativity at solving these climbing challenges with confidence, I knew he was ready. I led him to the big climbing course with the big slide. He climbed up like a monkey. He also slid down with no fear of heights.
He had fun because this whole challenge was easy to conquer now. He was ready.
By holding my son back just for 6 months, what I have allowed him to experience is fun and joy at accomplishing a goal with ease. If I had pushed him to do it or even just helped him to do it at 2 and 1/2 years old, the whole experience would not have been as enjoyable.
He would’ve been afraid of the heights. He would have fallen on his butt because he couldn’t handle the momentum at sliding down such a steep slide.
There are many activities that my son’s not inspired to do. In those activities, I try to inspire passion in him and push him a little bit more. But, when I see that he’s intrinsically motivated to learn something, it is my cue to step back and let him do the driving.
A huge part of parenting is about educating our children. When we live in such a competitive world, our instinct tells us to push our children and push our children’s cognitive and physical limits. But, childhood should really be a time of freedom, a time for free time, and a time for nurturing. Even with children who seem to accomplish so much, thinking about all of their needs as a whole may help us to parent better. There’s plenty of time when society and life will push our children’s mental and physical limits.
Until then, as parents, in order to foster fun along with learning, we can do them a great service by pacing their learning needs while guiding them on their path.
About the Author
Jun Wu is a Content Writer for Technology, AI, Data Science, Psychology, and Parenting. She has a background in programming and statistics. On her spare time, she writes poetry and blogs on her website.