After talking with your neighbor about all the work her child is bringing home from school you wonder why all your child brings home is little snips of paper he cut, or no work at all. You start to worry about whether or not your child is learning. He seems happy, he likes to go to school, he engages you in conversation and he asks questions about things that interest him because he wants to know as much as he can. His teacher says he is doing well, but there is still part of you that is craving that piece of artwork to hang on the fridge.
In today’s competitive society, where parents, and in some cases schools, are pushing students to challenge themselves with AP courses, score high on standardized tests and get into an Ivy League school, it’s no wonder parents are losing sight of what is really important, their child. The focus on common core state standards and college prep is taking away focus from the fact that not all children learn the same, and the process is what really counts, not the GPA, class rank or scholarship. The problem is many adults look at the final product to gauge success, not the process. So put your mind at ease and take a look at six important life traits that are developed through process oriented work.
- Self-control – This is an important character trait to have and it can be learned without externally imposed pressure. The key to achieving this is to harness the child’s own need for play and social interactions. Engaging your child in enjoyable activities elicits dopamine release to enhance learning while reducing the secretion of stress hormones that impede learning and increase anxiety. Overscheduling and micro-managing your child’s every moment does not provide the freedom to allow her to develop this ability.
- Self-esteem –Communicate high but achievable expectations and praise a child for her effort. Children do not benefit from routine empty praise such as, “Good job.” When a child is shown how to do something and then allowed to do it on her own, she understands that she is viewed as capable and trustworthy in the eyes of adults, raising self-esteem much more than verbal praise. Verbal praise and reward corrode one’s self-esteem. Providing rewards for everyday tasks robs children of the inherent pleasure of achievement. Children who are praised or rewarded only for the outcome are even more susceptible to losing site of the joy that can be found in the process of learning.
- Grit – Failure is part of the success process. People who avoid failure also avoid success. Your child most likely won’t do something perfectly the first time. However, knowing adults think she is capable will encourage her to keep trying. Trial and error requires patience. It can be frustrating, time-consuming and messy. Nevertheless, the long term benefits of doing something on their own far outweigh the speed at which they finished or the perfection of their product.
- Motivation – Authentic motivation comes from within. It is not determined by outside rewards or penalties but is developed through independence. When children are encouraged to accomplish tasks by themselves they are developing a strong self-identity, a resiliency to setbacks and a higher level of creativity. Being self-motivated also leads to other positive character traits such as independence of thought and willingness to speak out.
- Focus – Providing children uninterrupted time to work, as well as having a voice in establishing the parameters of assignments or jobs helps develop focus and concentration. Students who play an active role in planning collaboratively with the teacher or parent about assignments or chores get excited about what they are doing and end up doing a better more thorough job. This type of involvement creates ownership of the task and a desire to focus on completion.
- Understanding – When children have time to immerse themselves in the process of a work they come away with a profound understanding of WHY the outcome is what it is. Children want to understand everything. Unfortunately, understanding doesn’t get graded in schools, thus conveying the message that understanding isn’t important if you are able to create the expected product. We need to give our children the opportunity to discover that understanding what they are doing is just as important as being able to go through the steps to achieve a desired outcome.
To help your children through a process on their own, break down larger tasks that may seem overwhelming into shorter steps, reminding them they can ask for help. Rather than asking for help, however, they often find clever solutions to deal with challenges and can proudly claim, “I did it myself.” Take advantage of their individual tendencies and combine some fun with progressively increasing challenges.
The factory model of education we all grew up in was developed to ensure quality and consistency, creating identical products. The truth is people are not all the same and thus shouldn’t be forced to fit into the same mold. The process of learning should be adjusted to meet the various styles of learning, allowing for different products upon completion of a task. The creative process is one of surrender, not control.
For children, it’s easy to enjoy the process because they haven’t yet been conditioned to value the product. Sometimes they will toss aside a piece of artwork they spent time creating simply because they are done (and that’s ok!). It’s the adults that teach the child to value the product by placing it on the fridge or gushing about how good it is without acknowledging the hard work and effort put into the process. Consider doing an activity with your children that is process oriented. Or, if an activity is product oriented, focus on the process during your interactions. When completed, talk about how much you enjoyed working together rather than talking about the finished product.
“The basic law of children’s creativity is that its value lies not in its results, not in the product of the creation, but in the process itself.” Vygotsky
Interested in more about this topic? Join us Thursday, October 20, 2016 at 6:30pm for our first Parent Education Night of the school year. Call 847-634-0430 for more information.
Carol Martorano, M.Ed., has been working in Montessori for 20 years as both a teacher and administrator. She is the parent of two teenagers who attended Montessori through the elementary years and is currently the Head of School at the Montessori School of Long Grove, in northwest suburban Chicago. She has her Montessori credentials in Elementary I and II, as well as administration. She earned her Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership and sits on the board of the Association of Illinois Montessori Schools.