Allowing kids to be themselves

We were at the library today (hence the Instagram pictures instead of real ones :) ).  My 8-year-old and my 6-year-old came to me, wanting help to find something new to read.  They were ready for something new.

I got excited, hoping to introduce them to some of my old favorites.  I offered Charlotte’s Web to my 8-year-old, telling her how I’d loved it at her age.

She wasn’t interested.  Inside, I wanted to really push her to read it.  It’s a book I had loved and it had meant a lot in my childhood.  I knew I could have made her check it out, but I also knew that it wouldn’t be a positive experience, and that she’d probably resent either the book or me, or both.  So I put it back.  The 6-year-old immediately picked it up, flipped through it for a few minutes, and decided to check it out.

It’s funny.  If they had been in public school, the 8-year-old would have been forced to read it and the 6-year-old would have been told she wasn’t big enough for that book yet.  And it would have been wrong on both counts.

We sat down in the play area for a while.  I just sat and watched my children.  I was amazed at what they each chose to do without any pushing from me:

The 6-year-old sat down in a chair and immediately became engrossed in Charlotte’s Web.  She couldn’t be bothered to put it down, not even to play with the new toys at the library.  She made little comments to me every minute or so, and would gasp and sigh a little here and there.  She was getting it.

The 8-year-old in question sat on the floor to build a track for the train set at the library.  She spent a lot of time organizing the cars and moving them to just the right place.  She set things up and moved them around for a while before chatting with her sisters and then settling into a chair with a different book of her own choosing.  She is a very kinesthetic little girl.  She needs to be able to move around and carve out her own little place.  I notice she learns much easier when she does.  (Do you remember being forced to read or learn something you really didn’t want to do?  What did you do the second the pressure was off?  Did you keep doing it?  Did you ever love it?  Rarely, I would imagine.  I’ve noticed that this daughter needs time.  When she has it, she goes through leaps of growth and learning in the moments she is ready.)

The 9-year-old found a pile of postcards and a mailbox left out by the librarians and wrote postcards to her Grandparents.  It was perfect, because she needed to practice her writing, anyway.  This way, she was motivated and had fun writing without even thinking about practicing.

The 5-year-old sorted blocks by color and size.  She talked to herself softly while she did it, and then she went to play with the trains.  I noticed she started to sort those by color, as well.

The 2-year-old called out colors with her 5-year-old sister, then practiced putting puzzles together while making the noises of the animals and vehicles in the puzzles.  She also pretended to bake a cake.  Play is crucial to practicing real-life situations.

The newly-minted 1-year-old practiced stacking, walking, and climbing up and down on chairs: exactly the motor skills she is currently developing.

All of this is only a snapshot of an hour of our day, but it happened with no frustration, no tears, no worksheets, no desks.  Kids love to learn, and if left to it, they will naturally seek out exactly what they are suited to and what they are ready for at that moment.  And if, by chance, an 8-year-old does not that day choose to love the classic you once loved, she is most likely forging her own little path at the moment.  And that’s okay.  Maybe she will find the book a month or two from now.  Or maybe she’ll find something entirely different.  But in a loving, safe, and nurturing environment, a child is sure to grow and blossom continually with no need for pressure or coercion.