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Sunday, October 21, 2012

The "Right" Way

The other day, we bought Evan a bunch of stickers from the dollar store. When we got home, we would give him a couple, he'd stick them together, then ask for more. In my head - and even out loud once - I said "but you're not using them right!". Apparently, in my head, there are only specific ways one can use stickers correctly.

I had to bite my tongue and just let him play how he wanted. After all, we always say how we want to foster his curiosity and experimental side, as long as it's free from danger. Also, what harm does it do if he doesn't play "the right way" with the stickers? 

It's funny how doing things "right" is so engrained in us.

Take the cake decorating class I'm in, for example. Each week, we learn how to do new designs using the different tips. Often, when I feel I've had enough practice, I'll start playing around, seeing what else I can do. Or, I'll try a different technique to achieve the same look. The teacher will come over and either tell me I'm "doing it wrong", that "it looks awful", or ask me "what the heck are you doing?". I usually reply with "just experimenting - it's okay! The world won't end!" and keep going. She doesn't often interact with me anymore.

Now, in a community class like this one, I don't expect a high level of teaching. I know she's not trained and is doing this as something fun to do on the side. It doesn't bother me, because I know how unimportant the class is in the scheme of things. And I can also learn all the things she's teaching without positive interaction with her (however, it is making me NOT want to show her a photo of the cake I decorated for Evan's birthday).

But...transfer those same words to an elementary science or writing class, and you've got a serious problem. All of a sudden, you're squashing that innate curiosity and need for exploration we are all born with. Students start following and memorizing the instructions like a recipe, without knowing why, and stop experimenting and asking questions.

This is why we can't say "you're not doing it right" to our children at this stage. However they want to play is their "right" way (again, as long as there is no danger to themselves or others). It's their way of learning about the world around them, and they need to do so in a safe environment free from ridicule and correction. 

If we can do this for them, then - at the very least- when they're in their 30s they'll feel confident with experimenting with the #13 tip even if their decorating teacher tells them to stop.