One of our hopes for the summer was that my TBP would build on his skills and develop new interests.
With this in mind, we purchased an electronic snap circuit kit. It arrived at the house and we opened it up immediately. First, we found the directions. My instinct was to start at the beginning and read all of the directions in order. My son’s instinct was the exact opposite. To him, the directions weren’t important. He was far more interested in the discovery and process vs the end product. During his exploration, he was able to use the provided materials to make a spinner pop off the set like a flying saucer. He was happy with his accomplishment and after trying it a few times, he said, “okay, I’m done with this for now.”
While I watched him, I thought about his problem solving techniques. He focused on trial and error and doing a process of elimination. This desire to learn and figure it out on his own should be an amazing characteristic and one that is applauded. However, these very desires have been extremely frustrating to his teachers. Thinking back, this need to learn his own way, hasn’t always been celebrated at home either.
Lego sets and mini figurines have been a big part of play in our home. More than once, I have helped my son put large sets together with many MANY pieces. What tends to happen is that he begins very enthusiastically and then stops mid-way saying that he is tired or bored. Because I’m not a huge fan of toys taking over the house, I trudge on with the 600+ pieces and will complete it many hours later. Each time, I say that I won’t do it…but I can’t help it. When I am done, my son comes over and is thrilled! He admires the finished product, compliments me on my hard work and determination, and then says the unimagineable…”Let’s take it apart now and make something REALLY cool!” I don’t know why…but each time when I hear this, I am immediately irritated and shocked. Doesn’t he understand how long this thing took?!? Shortly after he sees my expression, he realizes that I don’t share his enthusiasm for breaking apart “my masterpiece.” This is about the time that my son reminds me that, “it is a toy that is meant to be played with and after all…it IS really mine.” After the reality sinks in, I reluctantly let him break it apart and he is thrilled to make what he wants. He doesn’t put the pieces in the “right” places and it doesn’t look anything like it is “supposed to” look, but he is happy and engaged.
He has always been the kid to do the “unexpected” and so I shouldn’t be surprised.
This seems to be true even with math. We ordered a fantastic math book (Primary Grade Challenge Math by Edward Zaccaro) and I wanted to begin our work with the first pages. My son, wanted to go through the book and find the “most interesting” pages. Picking up a book and not starting at the beginning seems against “the rules.” To my son, this notion seems absurd. Once we begin, on page 54, my son solves the problems quickly and accurately. When I ask him how he got his answer, his response is not what I expected. This happens repeatedly, each time…he shares a correct answer and his strategy is not one that I would have done. I must have shown my surprise, because he said,”I got the right answer, right?” “Do I HAVE to do it your way?”
Don’t get me wrong, I want my son to grow up to be a critical thinker, a creative problem solver, and to have the ability to stick with a challenge. The problem is…that while this is the goal for many people, the road MOST travelled seems to be rewarded instead of taking the road LESS travelled. Conformity seems to be celebrated. You can use a lot of words to describe my precious TBP but conformity will never be one of them.
My hope for this school year, is that my son’s teacher rewards his ability to think outside of the box and celebrates his uniqueness. As a teacher myself, I am reminded that I MUST do the same. After all, it is likely that I might have a tiny tater in my class too!