“Let them be bored, teach them how to make it through boring stuff”.
I think that was the most interesting request I have ever heard a parent ask a teacher before. It came partly as a comment to me saying that my greatest expectation of my young son’s school is that he will learn how to learn.
The conversation took place in the first meeting of the parents in my son’s 5th grade with the new class teacher. In this introductory meeting he asked each of the nearly 70 parents that gathered in the classroom to describe their education vision, wishes, hopes and expectations of the school. It’s a Waldorf school and many of the parents said they chose this school simply because they hated the alternative – the “regular” school system. But listening to each one describe a vision was interesting and inspiring. Parents aren’t asked often enough this very clear and simple question. I have 24 school years of parenting behind me (12 of my daughter, 8 of one son and 4 of the other son) and this was the first time. Learning what members of this community are expecting lay the foundation for a supportive community for the joint ride to education and scholarship.
“Learning how to learn is important and valuable”, this father continued my thread, “but while we teach our kids the process of learning, they must also learn how to cope with the boring side of it, the tedious tasks: they can’t expect everything to be interesting and attractive all the time”.
It got me thinking. I thought about all the times I hear or read about engagement in the classroom. All the intensive dealing with using technology in the classroom, so that kids will have an interesting time and action packed learning experience. We often get out of our minds in that effort to make the schooling experience so rich. Anything to keep them in the process.
But the basis of learning is a human need. Like we need food and drink and love, we also need to learn. At early childhood it is a survival instinct. How many times would the baby try to walk and fall until he gets it? Or the toddler repeats the stacking of building blocks until he figures out the right way to do it without them falling? Hear any complaints about the process? I don’t think so. Do parents interfere in that process, or work hard to make it more interesting?
So what happens when our kids get to school? To be perfectly honest – boring happens. Boring takes over. The balance between boring and tedious on one hand and rewarding or satisfying on the other hand is broken. Getting a smiley sticker on the notebook isn’t a reward worthy the investing of a whole hour in solving arithmetic exercises. This doesn’t feel like a rewarding experience. My daughter, Shai, thinks that sometimes the clear path or a result, conclusion or some other grand finale, can also make for a rewarding or gratifying experience. But it’s the little tedious tasks you do with no clear vision of where it is leading you, or when will it end, that earn the title “boring” and end up detestable.
On a slightly different note: we got a dog last week. Her trainer works with the positive dog training method. So each task the dog does to our satisfaction earns it a big reward, either in the form of something to chew or in the form of love demonstrations. It’s amazing to see how quickly this young dog learns through a simple promise of a rewarding experience.