I watched a story on Nightline tonight that made me feel a little ill. In case you didn’t tune in, click on the link below and check it out before you continue…
Now, let me be the first to admit that I understand a parent’s desire to see her child succeed. I’d be lying if I told you that I’ve never daydreamed about Cadence’s future, that I’ve never pictured her growing up to be an amazingly successful human being. Believe me, I would be overjoyed if, someday, my little girl grows up to cure Cancer or win a Pulitzer Prize or bring a packed house to their feet in her Broadway debut. And you better believe that I am going to be there to encourage and support along the way.
What I have an issue with, a BIG issue with, is overzealous parents who heap ridiculous expectations on the shoulders of their children and rob them of their childhoods.
They’re kids, people! They’re freakin’ KIDS!
When you’re 4 years old, the biggest worries you should have is how high you can build your block tower before it falls over, and whether your Mom will let you have some chocolate milk with lunch. There is not a 4-year-old in the world that needs to spend several hours a week with a tutor preparing for a test. Kids learn by playing. They learn by experiencing the world around them through their five senses, by exploring and moving and interacting and letting their imaginations soar.
They learn by being allowed to be kids.
The way I see it, “gifted” children are children who have a passion for learning. They are children who hunger for knowledge, and who will go above and beyond to master a new skill or acquire a better understanding of the task at hand. They see learning as an exciting opportunity instead of as a chore. And how can parents foster that in their children? By encouraging them, supporting them, uplifting them, helping them, paying attention to them, teaching them, listening to them, interacting with them, challenging them, believing in them, and, most importantly, by allowing them to grow and develop and just be kids.
There’s plenty of time for the adult stuff later.
My daughter turned 2 in February, and I’ve never tried to force her to sit and learn anything. Lord knows, I’d probably have to tie her to a chair to get her to sit still for more than five minutes at a time, and honestly, I don’t see the point in trying to force her to sit down for any sort of “lesson” at her age. Even so, Cadence has learned to count. She’s mastered all the way up to 13 and adding more numbers all the time. She can identify several colors, and can identify all the letters of the alphabet. She’s obsessed with the alphabet, shouting out letters wherever she sees them–on t-shirts, license plates, and TV. Sometimes she’ll get one wrong, and she’ll say “No” and shake her head and correct herself without Steven and I ever saying a word.
We’re amazed at how quickly she’s learning, but we know that it’s because Cadence thinks it’s really fun. It’s a game to her. She loves shouting out the numbers when the judges on Dancing with the Stars give their scores, or when the bids on Storage Wars are climbing. She laughs when she hollers out the correct color M&M we reward her with when she goes pee-pee on the potty. And she beams with pride when we applaud her for correctly identifying all of the letters on the page in one of her storybooks.
Now, I’m not claiming to be an expert here by any means, but I do believe that the most important lesson that Cadence is learning right now is that learning is fun. She doesn’t need to be entertained by a crazy circus sideshow of “educational programming” (aka annoying TV shows marketed to children) or coddled or forced to sit and memorize. And she certainly doesn’t need us to spend thousands of dollars so she can spend weekends with a toddler tutor. She just needs our time, our attention, our patience, and, every so often, a little nudging in the right direction.
And what our educational system needs is a complete freakin’ overhaul, but that, my friends, is another post for another time. I’ve already written a few posts about it, so feel free to check those out…
Otherwise, you’ll just have to wait for my next education-themed rant. But, in the meantime, do me a favor and take a moment to play with your kids. You just might be surprised at what you learn from the experience.