I am teaching a new audience of math students this year, ones that don’t mind being busy, but don’t like busy-work. There needs to be a real meaning for what they are doing, or I get some flack. This is a completely normal response from people – have you ever been asked to jump through hoops, and felt no real reason to do so? You let the hoop fall. You get irate or act stubborn.
The same thing happens sometimes during climbing, one of our moms noticed. Stroller Hikes hosts climbing every Friday, and when we do, we follow typical climbing protocol; just before jumping on the rock, the climber and the belayer communicate that each is ready for the climb, with a series of statements and responses: “On belay.” “Belay is on.” “Climbing.” “Climb on.” Most kids have no issue with saying “climbing” – they know what it means and it directly is related to what they are about to do. But “on belay” – what’s that? Some kids respond by not wanting to say it, and upon inquiry by mom or dad, they maintain their ground. This isn’t stubbornness for the sake of stubbornness. It’s just that the kids don’t really know why saying “on belay” is necessary, or even what it means. For these kids, checking in another way: “Are you tied in correctly? Am I?” or “Are we ready?” suffices and is followed by no resistance whatsoever.
I’m sure you’ve seen similar behavior at home. You ask your son or daughter to do something, and it is met with negative energy. With my newfound awareness about this, I’m going to try to preface a request for work with a clear indication as to why the work is important. Or let my kids figure out what is important. It might be time to get out the cards we used with Max (6), to help him develop good habits – we keep cards counting up to 7 on a string in our dining area, then promise a gift once a habit repeats seven times. Here, the promise of a gift helped build value and relevance, so something like eating meals efficiently or greeting guests when they first arrive felt more important and became practiced and acquired skills. Holly (2) is beginning to understand counting, so will probably understand the concept.
Back in the classroom, I have streamlined my lessons, prefaced every assignment with some larger meaning and value, and emphasized the minimal amount of work needed to meet our goals. It’s a lot of work, but just like in parenting, when I do it right, everything runs along a bit more smoothly, and much responsibility becomes more evenly distributed to others. The class hums like a suite of busy bees, happily moving from task to task, with foresight of a larger goal or meaning, and I can just step out of the way and watch the world work.
-Debbie (Founder and President of Stroller Hikes), Max (6), Holly (2), and Andrew