Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Learning At Her Own Pace

My daughter is almost four and a half, and by most opinions and books, she is delayed.  It could come from her prematurity, but knowing her and seeing her I know it is just her personality.

She didn't smile until she was four months old.  Didn't laugh until she was a year.  She didn't talk with more than one or two words until she was two and a half, and then she exploded with sentences.  Until three weeks ago, she couldn't count past four without skipping numbers.  She still has trouble with colors.

We have been told many times to get her checked and make sure she doesn't have any major issues.  I watch her play, I watch her learn, and it reaffirms our choice to let her learn as she goes.

We've seen her play with kids a year or two younger than her and they know more colors and numbers and the other parents look at us like we are doing something wrong or there is something wrong with her.

Talking to other parents, I've come to realize that most parents have become so dependent on milestones, delays, and markers that we have tried to force our children to grow up before they are ready.

When I meet other parents in the playground or at meetings, most ask if she is in pre-school or if she is going to kindergarten next year.  They don't ask about her, they only ask about how developed she is or will be.  We are so focused on schooling our children and teaching them as soon as we can that we forget they are children.

For the last four years, I've let my daughter learn as she went.  I haven't pushed her, and I have sat back as other parents look at her as if she's broken or that she should know more.  I've loved her and been there for every need she could have.

Three weeks ago, she sprouted.  She changed.  She became fascinated with learning the things she didn't care about before.  In three weeks, she is now able to count to 25, she can write every number and letter, she can spell her name and write the numbers 1-10 from memory.  She now knows different songs and sings them to me.  She tells stories.  It's like a light came on and now she can't get enough of learning.

If I had pushed her, if I had tried to get her learn all of this before she was ready, I know she would have shut down.  She's just like me.  I've worried and I've wondered, and now seeing what can happen when you let children learn as they want to learn is just fascinating.

I've always thought that most parents cannot wait for their children to grow up.  From birth, we are worried about when they are sleeping through the night, when they are eating enough solids, when we can wean them, when they're supposed to walk and talk.  We worry so much about them lagging behind that we forget that all children are different.

My daughter's  best friend is thirteen months younger than her.  She knows some things better than my daughter and some worse.  Watching the two of them has reaffirmed to me that all children are different.  My child won't learn the same as my best friend's child.  Her child won't learn the same as a sibling.

In a way, it is reassuring that she is able to learn and that she wants to learn.  As a parent, you do worry.  That's what being a parent is.  However, your worry about development, unless there is an issue, should not hamper when they are ready to learn and when you think they are ready to learn.

Children learn better when it is their idea.  Children learn better when their teacher, whether it be a parent or friend or a teacher from school, work with them to see what their focus is on.  Where they are in their learning.  There is no cookie cutter method for teaching a child.  There is no set time when a baby or child should be doing something.

We are letting our daughter learn at her own pace.  And just from the last three weeks, I know that this was the right thing to do.

Know your child.  Know their needs.  Know their signals.  Don't push them to things they aren't ready for.  Just as how you wouldn't enjoy that, they don't either.  Children don't all grow at the same pace or stride, and sometimes, we all need a reminder that there is nothing wrong with them because they are a little "delayed".


Tara said... [Reply to comment]

I just finished reading John Holt's Learning All The Time - it's fantastic and speaks about this exact thing. You are dead on - many parents don't focus on the whole person, just skills that earn them bragging rights on the playground.

We don't push formal learning and follow child led learning instead. It's so much fun to watch our son learn and figure things out- when he recognizes writing on cars and while he doesn't identify letters, he's thrilled he understands that there are words. It only affirmed to me we're on the right track. Allow them the space and they'll teach themselves and they'll do it playing!

Inder-ific said... [Reply to comment]

This pushed some buttons for me, since my son is speech-delayed, and I have gotten him assessed, etc. Folks have implied that we are overly "hovery" to do so, and that he will learn at his own pace. And I'm sure he would, regardless. We know that he's probably just a late talker and it's no big deal. I will admit that the assessment process is a bit stressful for the parents - that much is true.

But the thing is, speech therapy is fun! The therapist comes to our house with toys and Joe and his therapist (who he loves) play and talk together. There's nothing punitive or high-pressure about her approach. We've learned fun games from the therapist that we play during the week when she's not there. It's basically 100% play-based therapy.

This is obviously a decision that each parent has to make, but honestly I just don't see a down-side to going through the assessment process and addressing the delays, as long as it's done in a way that is sensitive to your child's needs and follows his interests? Even if you don't believe that therapy can improve outcomes later on in life, do you really think it does any harm? I'm just really curious about this perspective, thanks.

Kayce Pearson said... [Reply to comment]

I will need to get that book Tara, it sounds awesome!!

Kayce Pearson said... [Reply to comment]

@Inder-ific I don't think there is harm in getting an assessment. I was talking about our experience. That's also why I put in the post that if there are issues you need to take a different road. I know a lot of children that don't mind assessments and have fun in their therapies, and others that fight against it because they are too structured since they come from an unschooling background.

As with everything, go with *your* gut as a parent. You can still do assessments and therapies while letting them learn as they will, that doesn't stop that. Kids learn as they play, they always have. I feel a lot of schools have become so bogged down in standardized testing that children are missing out on the key principle of play in learning. Play is important.

Truly, you have to do what you feel is right for your children. I do think that most delays are just from the child not wanting to learn yet, or just being a child, but the ones that need help, get help for them. I can't say what is best for you children.

Inder-ific said... [Reply to comment]

Thanks for responding. It is hard to resist the urge not to "push." But I do think you can have fun with words and concepts without pushing. I think our speech therapist is actually better at this than I am, and has taught me a lot about just playing with my child and having fun with communication, whatever that looks like this week.

I couldn't agree more about standardized testing, and I do think our culture has pathologized many delays unnecessarily. As Joe gets older, it becomes clearer that he's probably just a late talker (who didn't catch the communication "bug" until he was more than two). But six months ago, with almost no words, we were far more concerned about "other issues." So we didn't know. We just made the best decision we could come up with at that time, you know?

Joe is really shy so his assessments probably put him further behind than he really was. But the great part about that (ironically) is that he was so delayed that he qualified for in-home therapy free from the government. Speech therapy would be harder if we had to go someplace. Having it at home made it so much easier for Joe to adjust, given his shy temperament.

So yeah, the whole thing: who knows?

Inder-ific said... [Reply to comment]

P.S. Seeing your child blossom and become interested in new skills and ideas is wonderful. We've experienced that here in the past month or so as well - Joe's communication skills just exploded, and his ideas (which he can finally express a bit better) are are hilarious and fascinating and a neverending source of joy to my husband and I. So I really relate to your feelings of excitement on that front! It's just great to see that little light-bulb go off. :-)

Sheila said... [Reply to comment]

I totally agree. I taught first grade, and I had one child who just didn't seem ready. We struggled all year with him. We tried so hard to help him catch up, to no avail. He had tons of behavior problems and aggression which was all due to his frustration at not being able to read or do what the other kids could. Very rapidly in the spring, he suddenly learned to read and was catching right up! I couldn't help but think, "All that time, effort and frustration -- and all he needed was another year."

That's one of the big things that confirmed my intention to homeschool/unschool my own kids.

Tylerpants said... [Reply to comment]

Thank you for this! I was getting worried because my 2 1/2 yr old refuses to learn the alphabet. It's hard not to compare him to other kids his age. This makes me see it from his point of view..that I shouldn't push so hard or get frustrated at him. He will learn when he's ready & wants to. He has many years of school ahead of him to learn..right now he needs to be a kid and enjoy playing.

Kayce Pearson said... [Reply to comment]

Yes, Sheila, exactly! It makes me want to keep her home just because of this and how far behind she would be if she had been in preschool right now. I don't want her to be frustrated and resentful. I want her to be able to learn when she wants to learn, whether that is 3 years later than others or 3 years ahead. (Sorry, kinda ranty today haha)

And that's how I am Tylerpants :)

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