I realize that I share these Joy of Learning links posts somewhat irregularly. That's because I generally wait until some piece strikes me so strongly that I feel a need to share it, and to quote from it, and to respond to it. Then there are usually a few others floating about that I decide are also worthy of a more in-depth look. In this case, a piece that I read today from Boston Magazine about letting your kids be mediocre (vs. pushing them with activities and academic enrichment) really hit home. It echoed concerns voiced by a Silicon Valley teen in a piece that I read over the weekend. I also ran across articles over the weekend about nurturing grit in children, and about the importance of continuing to read aloud to older kids. As these are both topics of particular interest to me, I have quoted from and responded to those here, too. I hope you find these articles as interesting as I did.
Julie Suratt: "Some see these early-education initiatives as a way to give kids a jump-start, while others, including one former middle school teacher who wished to remain anonymous, think they’re simply a waste of money. “There’s nothing a three-year-old should be doing academically,” she says. “That makes kids hate learning. A love of learning is what makes them successful.”...
Naylor, the sports psychologist, sees the same thing happening on the playing field: “As parents, we’re great at supporting our kids; we’re bad at letting them feel challenged.” If a child doesn’t get playing time, or if she has to sit on the sidelines, “that’s okay,” he says. Tears of frustration indicate passion—and intrinsic motivation. Look at Michael Jordan, who was cut from the varsity basketball team during his sophomore year of high school. He managed to turn out just fine...
A friend recently sent me a New York Times article in which college admissions officers shared advice they give their own kids. A quote from MIT dean of admissions Stuart Schmill resonated: “If you couldn’t write about this on your college application, would you still do it? If the answer is ‘no,’ then you shouldn’t be doing it.”"
Me: This long-form Boston Magazine piece resonated strongly with me. Author Julie Suratt talks about her desire not to push her kids too hard, and to pay attention to their actual interests, rather than forcing them into things that don't bring them joy but will help them to get into college (whether academic enrichment activities or sports, etc.). The piece is made stronger by Suratt's admission of sometimes being tempted, or getting caught up in what other people are doing. I especially liked the quote above from the college admissions officer on activities.
What I struggle with is the balance between not pushing my daughter into activities but helping her to be more gritty about the activities that she does pursue. She has loved karate for two years, and I think it's really good for her. Recently, however, for whatever reason I've had to push her to go to class. If I let her off the hook, in the interest of letting her do some other open-ended play instead, am I teaching her that she should always follow her whims? What about her desire to get to Black Belt?
This balance, I think, is going to be a work in process. But meanwhile, I highly recommend that parents (especially parents struggling with implied pressure to put your kids in extra tutoring, competitive sports, etc.) read Julie Suratt's article.
Sky Yonehiro: "This is the culture that has been passed on to all the children of Silicon Valley. When articles talk about helicopter parenting, “checklisted” childhood or outside pressure, they are missing a crucial part of the puzzle: the children.
My classmates are always trying to do more, always wondering if there is something more they should be doing and always worried that they are missing something. I’ve had classmates frantically ask me if I’d heard that so-and-so is doing something, and if they should be doing that and more. I’ve also had classmates privately divulge summer plans, internships and extracurriculars to me as if they were secrets, hoping that others don’t do the same thing."
Me: This OpEd is a lament by a Silicon Valley teenager concerned about the pressure that she see exerted on herself and her friends by the competitive local culture. Her view is that this is exacerbated by the mindset of parents here ("Silicon Valley loves the toxic startup culture, loves the materialism of owning Teslas and loves the competitiveness that drives the anxiety and fakeness of the area. It loves its image and its money, no matter what the cost.").
As the Boston Magazine article shows, this pressure is not unique to Silicon Valley (though it's certainly possible that it's worse here than in other parts of the country). But I think that the article is worth reading because it gives a student's perspective on the pressure that is undeniably being brought to bear on many teens. All I can do is share articles like this and maintain my determination not to put such pressures on my own child.
Melanie Curtin: "As Duckworth defines it, grit is, "passion and perseverance for long-term projects; having stamina; sticking with your future, day in, day out ... and working really hard to make that future a reality." (my emphasis)
In other words, grit is tenacity. It's the ability to stay connected to a goal, even when that goal is far away or there are setbacks...
But when kids in Dweck's research studies read and learn about the brain (particularly how it grows in response to challenge), they become more brave, more resilient, more likely to try even harder things, more ... gritty.
Why? Because they start to see that simply doing the hard thing helps them expand. That it doesn't matter whether you get the answer right--it just matters that you try, and keep trying.
It's a lesson we can all take to heart, especially since grit research showed something else totally fascinating: there is no relationship or an inverse relationship between grit and talent. Hang on and make sure you got that last part -- inverse means the less talented you are, the more gritty you are likely to be ... which may be exactly what leads to your success."
Me: This Inc. Magazine article is a high-level introduction to the impact of grit on student success, and the impact of a growth mindset on grit. While the concepts weren't new to me, and there wasn't a lot of detail about what parents should actually do, it was good to see these concepts introduced in a mainstream magazine.
As I noted above, grit and tenacity are something I'm working on with my daughter. She's about to start taking piano lessons. Her teacher told us that kids who practice get better, and kids who don't practice end up quitting, because they get frustrated by the lack of progress. So, I suspect that the piano lessons will be a good experiment for us. Of course it's going to depend on whether she enjoys learning to play as much as she thinks she will. She's already nervous about the prospect of doing recitals, which I think means that they will be good for her, too.
Margaret Kristin Merga: "Research has typically found that shared reading experiences are highly beneficial for young people. Benefits of shared reading include facilitating enriched language exposure, fostering the development of listening skills, spelling, reading comprehension and vocabulary, and establishing essential foundational literacy skills. They are also valued as a shared social opportunity between parents and their children to foster positive attitudes toward reading.
When we read aloud to children it is also beneficial for their cognitive development, with parent-child reading activating brain areas related to narrative comprehension and mental imagery. While most of the research in this area focuses on young children, this does not mean that these benefits somehow disappear as children age....
In addition, children were sometimes terrified of reading aloud in the classroom, and this fear could potentially be alleviated through greater opportunities to practice at home."
Me: This article in The Conversation reports findings from a more detailed academic report (linked within the article) by Margaret Kristin Merga. While I was already on board with most of the benefits reported in the article, I appreciated seeing them verified and publicized here. I especially appreciated the point about kids being nervous about reading in class, and how helpful it can be for them to read aloud with their parents at home.
I do know how tempting it is to scale back on reading together once a child can read on her own. Because reading on their own is good for them, too. They need the practice, and we need the quiet. My daughter likes to read in bed to herself some nights, and I'm either sleepy or interested in getting into my own bed for my own reading. So I don't read to her at night very often these days. My husband still does, though, and I try to read to her over breakfast instead. She's seven, and even though she's reading middle grade graphic novels on her own, we still come across many vocabulary words that she's not familiar with, whether we are reading picture books or Harry Potter.
So, if you need a little extra dose of motivation to keep reading together, go on over and read this Conversation piece. And if you really want to delve into the details, you can click through and read the full research report, too.