As I child I would excel in school. I was the fastest at mad minutes (yeah, I’m that old) and started writing mini-books at the age of 6. A year later I was asked to join the gifted program; my mother was proud.
7 years ago I had a beautiful baby boy. He is shy, good at joke-telling and loves animals. My son is a little different than I was as a child. He struggles with reading, despises math and tells me twice a day how much he hates school. I panicked…what the hell?! How can he hate school?
…I’m failing as a parent.
Why did I feel that way? I’ll tell you why. His teachers worship the students who are two steps ahead. Constant praise and recognition for them in the folders he brings home, leaving red marks all over his “unfinished” work. Other parents constantly posting their children’s straight A honor rolls on Facebook. The state standard rising every year. My son was struggling to keep up in kindergarten and I feared for his future.
I drilled him with ABC’s and simple math at the age of 5 until he would get so frustrated he’d cry. Then I’d cry. I’d vent to my mother saying I just don’t get it. How does he not understand this, mom?
A night I’ll never forget. I assumed he hated school because it was boring and didn’t interest him. Until he broke down, my then 5 year old, explaining he hated school because it was hard. Because the other kids were “smarter”. Because his teacher wasn’t proud of him. I realize this caused him to lose interest, causing him to fall behind, causing him to lose more interest, and do worse. An awful cycle. Why is my 5 year old stressed and pressured about education???
Then one day it hit me.
A Bruno Mars song was playing in the background of a movie on TV. Matthew jumped up and immediately started moving. He was so concentrated on matching his shoulder lift with the quick beat that his forehead wrinkled in a serious manner. I had never seen him concentrate that hard on anything before.
He’s capable of concentrating.
I played more songs and we laughed and danced together all night; my moves less on beat.
It didn’t stop there. I am awful at it, but I enjoy sketching as a form of meditation. One day Matthew asked if he could join me. I was surprised at his interest, gave him a small 5×7 canvas and some paint and said I’d love nothing more.
I have never witnessed more creativity in my life. He explained to me what he was working on and I watched as it unfolded color by color. My son couldn’t read as quick as other first graders, but let me tell you, he can create some amazing and detailed dinosaurs and midnight skies.
He can create. He can accomplish.
Intellect shouldn’t be measured by ability to read and add quickly. Intellect is so much more. It’s creativity. It’s what makes each of us special. It’s the ability to express yourself through the unique talents we’re given. For some, it’s reading. For others, it’s writing. For my son, it’s various forms of art—his imagination is limitless.
Now, when he comes home with work he wasn’t able to finish because of difficulty, I sit with him, help him through and remind him it’s ok if it doesn’t come easy. His success and happiness in life don’t rely on the ability to grasp things at the pace of everyone else, only the ability to attempt it and accept the result of your greatest effort. I acknowledge his grades, but don’t pressure him to keep up with the other children. Only to do his best.
After we run through his sight words, I bring out the paint. Then we imagine, create and laugh together. That’s when he shines. Some of the most influential and incredibly talented people in our world failed in the education system. No biggie.
I didn’t stop with paint and dance–we now hike, we bake, we play sports, we run, we sing, we climb trees, try new foods and build stuff. Together, we’re constantly seeking new ways to discover who we are, what we like and what we’re good at. And we make amazing memories doing it, too.
Maybe we shouldn’t suppress our kids’ true talents and desires to conform to what society says is ‘intelligence’. We should have them do their best, but not allow others, including teachers and peers, to doom their future because of a few unsatisfactory marks on a math sheet.
By not comparing him to others, I’m teaching him to not compare himself to others. He can learn his own talents and self-meaning without society’s opinion being forced onto him. He will learn to be true to his own original identity.
He has since finished Kinder and moved onto first. As the school year progressed, the pressure was lessened and his approach was different. The work didn’t magically come easier for him, but he gave noticeably greater effort. I’m happy that with hard work and new found confidence, he made A/B honor roll in first grade. That day we didn’t celebrate his grades, we celebrated his efforts. He’s also made MVP several times in his soccer league, recognized for his artwork at school on several occasions, tackled multiple 4+ mile hikes and can bake some mean cupcakes. Seeing that he’s talented in other fields helps him not dwell so much on where he falls behind elsewhere. Where he lacks in one area, the strength of his creativity picks up for in another.
If your child makes A honor roll every year—that’s amazing. If they don’t, but they’re trying their very best, that’s OK, too. Find what it is that sparks their interest and build it into your routine.
You’ll notice the overflowing creativity and joy when they finally discover how to express whatever unique intellect they possess. There’s nothing more heart warming than witnessing the happiness of your children.