Saturday, December 18, 2010

Turtle and Kids' Education

Here is an interesting observation of our turtle Francis.

Every time I watch the turtle climb the stump in its water tank home, it fails except once. Based on this observation, I would assume that Francis is not able to climb onto that stump on a consistent base. But the matter of fact is that it gets on and off the stump a few times a day, it can scale the the stump consistently!!! It does all this when I am not watching.

The reason I relate this observation to kids' education is that similar situations occur during kids' development. Parents, especially highly educated parents, like myself, tend to rush to help kids at the first sign of failure or potential failure in whatever endeavors they are in. When parents react like this, it robs the kids' chance to work things out on their own; when parents consistently react like this, it may create kids' dependence on parents, make them not able to handle difficult problems, or tough situations on their own.

I know that I have this tendency to intervene when my children seem to struggle at their activities. I have been trying really hard via various approaches to refrain from intervening.

For example, when my children work on hard math problems, I am really prone to jump in to help at the first sign of their struggle. After a few protests from them, I learned to consciously step away from their desks when they work on their tough problems. Just like the turtle, they can successfully solve many difficult problems after some struggle. This doesn't mean I would not help - I would say "Show me how you solve the problem when you are done", "Try it first. Let me know if you need help". Even with this self imposed constraint, I still cross the line from time to time.

An interesting example occurred at Youth Engineering Fair this summer. Nick was in his grade group for a fun oriented competition - packaging a raw egg with Styrofoam cup and other provided materials and then dropping it from 10 feet height. Though tentatively approaching the competition area, he declined my offer to sit by him. Then the organizer announced that parents should stay away from the tables where kids would work on their projects. As the kids were instructed to start, a few kids apparently knew exactly what do, Nick was slow to start. He did not do anything, he checked the materials, looked around a bit and played the materials and egg a bit. I was inclined to help but could not due to the rule, so I walked away from the area. I watched older kids flying model airplanes, building bridges with candies.

I went back to the "egg" area when it was announced that the organizers would start to drop packaged eggs.

First the eggs were dropped from 3 feet height - everyone passed the first test except one. Nick's package passed the test as well, but a few foam balls fell out of the Styrofoam cup. I was trying to tell him to reinforce his package a bit using left over materials on his table. He declined to do anything except put all stuff back in place, maybe with a little bit rearrangement. Next the eggs were to be dropped from 10 feet height. When Nick's package was dropped from 10 feet height, the cup, which had a balloon attached to it, landed on the floor on one side of its bottom edge, it fell, foam balls rolled out, and then the egg rolled out without breaking!!

There were total of 4 eggs not broken after the 10 foot drop. The tie breaker was the amount of materials used - Nick used least amount of material for his package - he won the competition!

When I allow children to work things out on their own, they may succeed, they may fail. This is what I have been trying to do :

Give children time, let them try, allow them to fail and restrain from intervention.

However, it is easy said than done.

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