Consciously skilled

Julie Neal and I teach Positive Discipline (from Adler, Dreikurs and Jane Nelson).  In the parent educator training, we are given a fat book of experiential exercises to help participants feel the way children feel when we act certain ways.  There are also exercises to help adults examine why and how we do what we do, and feel what we feel.  All fascinating!

At the end, we often do an activity called : The Continuum of Change (Positive Discipline Association).  In this, we are invited to remember a hard learning that involved brain and body.  The point of the exercise is to help us forgive ourselves for not knowing everything, and for feeling uncomfortable during the learning.  It has been so long since we learned something completely new, of COURSE it feels awful, like stalling out in the middle of heavy traffic, or making a turn onto gravel and flying over the handlebars!  One can think of riding a bike, driving a car, using manual transmission, or learning to knit.  Remember that mind-blowing struggle at the beginning?

The continuum goes something like this: first, you are unconsciously unskilled.  You don’t even know what you don’t know (maybe how your preschooler sees you driving; just turning the wheel- la dah!)  Then, you are consciously unskilled: “oh, I will NEVER get this!  What do I do now???? Oh, %$^&.”

Next, you get to be consciously skilled: “I can do this, if I concentrate and stick out my tongue, and don’t breathe, and now my brain is fried.  I need a break!!”

After a long time, some say 10,000 hours, you get to be unconsciously skilled.  That is when you can drive the car, eat a sandwich, talk to your kids in the back, and decide what to have for dinner, all without missing a beat.

And, how do we get to Carnagie Hall?  Practice, practice, practice.  For adults, this process is terribly uncomfortable, perhaps because we have perfected so many skills, that it feels AWFUL to go back to incompetence.  So hats off to those who take up a new instrument, or a new language, as adults!

On to children.  As you can imagine, they live a lot of the time between unconsciously unskilled and consciously unskilled.  They are not good at much, especially the first time.  And, if they live with mostly adults, then it is discouraging that everyone else is good at EVERYTHING!  Why bother?

Fortunately, children seem to be hard wired to learn hard stuff.  Like walking and speaking a language, with grammar and all.  So, that’s what they are good at.   Montessori saw, however, that, if we gave children a lot of opportunities to become consciously, then unconsciously skilled, from a very young age, they felt good, and learned skills and confidence that allowed them to consider learning more and more things.  The movement from consciously unskilled to consciously skilled did not feel so impossible.  In fact, it might even be fun, and definitely worth the risks.

So, she created a lot of self-corrected learning materials, that intrigued hands and minds.  She also placed importance on something she called: Practical Life (or Grace and Courtesy).  This is the process of actively teaching self-care and life skills, in a fun, accepting way, from blowing your nose and wiping your own bottom, to how to ask for help or tell someone to leave you alone.  It also can include dressing yourself, folding clothes, hanging up your coat so that you can find it again, cooking, cleaning…anything that is “practical” to “life” in your culture, would be useful.  And, of course, at home, things that your family and your child value: washing the car, gardening, taking care of pets, making art, playing music….

So, we take the time to break down many tasks into small parts, and give many, many stress free opportunities to practice, with as much help as needed, so that children will have many, many abilities at a young age, and feel competent in many things, before they interact with much that is “academic.”

Think of the intense satisfaction you feel as you have mastered something.  Don’t all people, including  children deserve the opportunity to feel that they are masters in many things?  They can do so, if they are given opportunity, time, instruction (if needed) and support.

 

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child-brain-development

We have recently had a most challenging child at school: very, very bright, and struggling very hard to self-soothe during adjustments or transitions.  Any transitions at all, including things that the child wanted to do, like get out his lunch and eat a cookie, caused crying.

What I have learned from this child: patience, empathy, respect for hard work, and also, when the child can be calm, it is his brain which does the most to help him.  Not that a lap, or a hug, or a empathetic look or remark does not help him calm down, a lot.  But, ultimately, it is when his mind is engaged, when he is intrigued or fascinated or curious or observant or amused, and his brain is working, that he is the most calm, during turbulent times.

This does not mean that we try to distract him with flashing lights and funny clowns, but calmly demonstrate something intriguing, and sit back.  We model our own enjoyment, and invite.

There has been a lot for me to learn in watching this process unfold.

More on confidence

Building-the-Pink-Tower

Okay, how do I recognize confidence, or lack of it?

Confident children:

explore

try things

play independently

risk

ask for help

Children who lack confidence:

get stuck in activities/requests and repeat them without pleasure

don’t play

whine

try to keep adults involved with them

in a mixed group, prefer to talk to adults

talk about adult issues/concerns

get frustrated easily

tease others

do things for negative attention

(In very young children, some of these latter things can indicate boredom. Of course, don’t “entertain them” but help them switch gears :”I see you are bored with these blocks.  It is time to put them away and find something fun /go outside/feed the cat/ put your socks in your drawer.” Notes: I am not asking them, or listening when they protest.  If they are not engaged, they are bored.  if they are bored, it is my job to teach them how to get over being bored without having to pick a fight with me, the cat, the dog, or the blocks!)

To build confidence: if you have engaged adequately (they are not pining for a little adult one-on-one) change/create the environment (go outside and get so busy that they cannot get you engaged with them negatively, and have to find something to do), express confidence, don’t rescue or entertain, endure the learning curve (they don’t liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiike it; it is uncomfortable), don’t get sucked into power struggles or the appearance of neediness, express more confidence, take care of yourself.

I believe, all children are hard wired for success, and all people must struggle a bit.  A healthy child will seek out appropriate struggles, and take them on when they are ready.

Confidence

Nailed-ItI have a wonderful quote on a cabinet at school that says something like: “Knowledge comes from experience, and experience comes with mistakes.”  I would add, that this is also true for confidence.

As a parent, we all want our children to be confident.  Not foolish or reckless, but willing to walk in, sit down and try.

As a teacher of preschoolers for a long time, this is something I expect from all preschoolers.  They may be afraid/angry (crying), but they are also curious and intrigued by new activities and people.

I remember one little girl, years ago, who came for a visit with her dad. She made it very clear that she wanted no eye contact or conversation with me, and sat behind her father.  He, of course, kept trying to coax her out.  This is not my first rodeo, so I knew to get something out, put it on a rug, and enjoy exploring it.  It almost doesn’t matter what I got, it is my interest that is intriguing.  Of course, she eventually crept out and joined in.  I knew not to try to “make friends” unless she initiated it.  That was not what we were doing.  We were exploring together. My job was to present the opportunity (“create the environment” is what Montessorians say) and then wait, but not passively.  In a Montessori classroom, the children are attracted by the materials, and the activity of the other people, particularly the other children.  That is why it is so important to have “experienced” children; i.e multi-aged grouping, but that is another essay. 🙂

We create an interesting environment, with busy people in it, and there is so much to watch and touch, we hope that the child will be drawn in, without any coersion from any of us.  It happens, with time, for almost everyone. (For those who are not interested in anything, there is not much I know to do.)

Back to confidence.  It takes confidence to enter in, and it takes entering in to build confidence.  This is a hard one.  It would be nice if we all learned confidence with every move we made, from birth, but that cannot always happen, for many reasons.

So, sometimes, we have to create the environment and wait.  Not everyone likes the stretching it takes to take that first step; it is uncomfortable.  This reminds me of a time in a new school.  I was about 12.  For many reasons (some to do with my lousy eyesight, and how long I went without glasses before anyone noticed how blind I am!), I felt terrible at “sports” or games.  In a new school, I had a new game (hockey), which I was sure I would hate as much as every other game (kickball, softball, dodgeball…..)  My stance was to stand as far away from the action as possible, and endure.  Fortunately, I had a wonderful coach.  She took the time to put me in a position and explain to me what my job was.  And to make sure it was very simple: “If you get the ball, pass it to this person.”  That’s it.  Then, she followed along a bit, and told me again, when the time came.  After one success, my confidence grew, of course, and the fun of being part of a team was evident, for the first time.  I never was a hockey star, but I loved every game I played from then on.

I will say, she didn’t give me the option of sitting out every game until I graduated.  She didn’t give me pity or too much help.  She didn’t say that, since I was skinny, nearsighted, and terrified looking, I should just give it up, even though everyone else had been playing since Kindergarten. She certainly didn’t offer to do it for me.  She gave me a simple task, and expressed confidence that I could do it.  Then she let me go.  She didn’t give me a trophy, either, but a smile. (Thanks, Mrs. Callahan!)

So, sometimes creating the environment includes expressing faith and then leaving them to it (How much instruction is needed?  It is often hard to know….”Every unnecessary help is a hindrance.”  Maria Montessori. That one is a moving target.  We do get better with practice, and, observing.  One answer might be: “Less than you think.”)

The goals: confidence, independence, new interests, joy.