My son Tucker seems to be growing up too fast. He’s eight years old and playing in soccer, lacrosse, and basketball leagues. He’s reading, playing video games, and always wants to hang with friends. His most recent heroic act was saving his younger brother from a raccoon by kicking off of him!
This morning I was watching a highlight video that I made for Tucker’s 1-year old birthday. At the end of the video, I watched him take his first steps, this time a bit removed from the situation. It was awesome.
Any parent who has seen their child’s first steps can share the same feeling. It wasn’t so much the actual steps, but the culmination of all those “baby steps” that led to him finally walking. Looking back on his first year of life, I’m struck by how improbable it began and how amazing it has been since the beginning.
On October 29th of 2011, my son was born and I did not know him. We adopted Tucker on 11/11/11 and have been blessed from the first moment he was in our arms. His older sister pointed out in the video that Tucker likes to eat, and he is a good sleeper. And that is what we (like most parents) focused on for the first 3 months of his life. Is he eating enough? Is he sleeping ok? That’s it.
We didn’t worry about much else because those are the small things that loom so large for a newborn. As he continued to grow we saw him smile and laugh, roll over, start eating baby cereal (solid foods would soon follow), army crawl (his preferred method of getting around), sit up by himself, walk while holding things, and finally take his first steps. Many of my friends have babies and toddlers and we each beam with pride flashing pictures and videos on our phones to each other as milestones take place.
We are proud not only because they are our kids, but also because we have seen them grow and develop in front of our eyes.
Watching the process, it is almost unbelievable to see a baby who only wants to eat and sleep (sometimes cry!) go to a walking, talking toddler in a year.
I recently read Jim Knight’s article “Permission to Screw Up”. It really hit home. As a parent, I’m completely ok with my son falling down the first thousand times he tries to walk. In fact, I expect it. In the article he quotes Heidi Grant Halvorson from her book “Nine Things Successful People Do Differently” about “getting better goals”:
Embracing the fact that you can change will allow you to make better choices and reach your fullest potential. People whose goals are about getting better, rather than being good, take difficulty in stride and appreciate the journey as much as the destination.
Our children would never learn to walk and talk if we labeled them as failures every time they tried and fell down. But we as parents set “get better” goals for our kids. We get ecstatic about them standing up for .5 seconds! The next time it’s .8 seconds! Woo hoo!
However, somewhere along the line, that type of thinking seems to change. Sadly it often changes when our children reach school age. We don’t let kids screw up as much as they need to, and we judge them against their peers’ ability levels. My daughter walked at 10 1/2 months. How awful would it be to label my son a failure because he didn’t walk until 12 months??? But that is what we do many times in our current system.
How to Keep Learning When You Keep Failing
I’m all for challenging students and pushing them to achieve (just ask some of my former students). But at what cost are we trying to get all kids on the same level at the same time? It’s not the kind of system I want my four kids educated in, that’s for sure. I want them to have teachers that will work with them when they don’t understand something the first time, and I want those teachers to have school administrators that won’t judge them on their struggling students, but instead judge them on how often they reach out and help those struggling students, no matter how many times they fall down.
We forget (too often) that in order to get from A-Z you have to hit B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, and Y.
When we start small with our children they go so far in that first year of life.
If you are a teacher, start smaller with your students and see how far they can go without missing each tiny step. If you are an administrator, start smaller with your staff and see what they can achieve.
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