I helped my kindergartener finish up his homework this morning. In turn, he helped me decide that pride just can't always be a bad thing. Between helping my kindergartener and his 8th grade brother, I must admit... the kindergarten help is by far the more enjoyable experience. While reliving the 8th grade academically can be interesting (mostly because I'm not staring out the window this time around) I find that it requires patience and the finely tuned art of asking questions in a way that makes my student produce, understand, and remember his own answers. Given that he comes to the learning game with some extra challenges, we take extra time, extra effort, and extra appreciation for each others dedication. Our tutoring begins at 6:30 every morning and we strive to end it by 7:40 so that he can walk into his classroom on time. Strive as we may, he's usually late, but thanks to the wonderful teachers who help me tutor by providing me with an answer key, the homework is done, and correct, and at the end of the week the test scores reflect our hard work.
In sharp contrast, there's the kindergarten homework. Today we drew 4 carrots to illustrate that 2+4=6. Ahhhh, that was living. Then we cut and pasted a moose, a mailbox, and a mop because they all start with M. The joy of it! No answer key necessary. Even more satisfying was the fact that all I had to do to assist in this process was say things like, "That's right!" and, "Exactly, you've got it!". When we got up from the table I took his face in my hands, looked him in the eye, and said, "I'm so proud of you!", to which he replied through his mile-wide grin, "I do it all the time!".
Hmmm, why does the 8th grade version of this exchange lack so much enthusiasm? Could it be because by the end of the intricate dance of encouragement, discipline, and actual learning that is our tutoring session we are both just relieved to relax? Maybe it's because exchanges between teenagers and their parents naturally restructure themselves to allow space for the child to grow into a young adult and the parent to let them. But perhaps what is lacking is the pride, the "I do it all the time!" factor.
I never forget to tell my 8th grade student that I'm proud when he gets a B on a test, but I tend to very quickly move into "how could we have made it an A" mode. I guess I let my fear of missing a chance to help him improve get in my way of celebrating the success he has already achieved. Today my easy and relaxed kindergarten homework session was punctuated with a valuable reminder for me. Understanding concepts, memorizing definitions, improving your grade are all just ways of going through the motions. Academic achievement is of course extremely important, but it is empty if it doesn't accompany personal achievement. And common sense tells us that having one's need for personal achievement met leaves more energy available to apply to the academic side of things.
The power of personal achievement isn't just valuable for the student. When is the last time you commended yourself for making a good decision, for helping someone, for learning something? I don't mean to suggest that you live in your ego. One can certainly have too much of a good thing. But perhaps when taking care to live in gratitude, we might include ourselves in the equation. By acknowledging our progress, we build momentum in our efforts. And what a gift it would be to hear yourself say, "I do it all the time!”