INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. - One of the current trends with which I struggle as a parent and an educator is the inclination of many adults to heap praise upon children without regard to effort or ability on the parts of the children involved. Please don't misunderstand. I am a firm believer in recognizing and appreciating hard work and improvement. I also believe in supporting children as they explore new avenues of interest, especially when they don't find immediate success.
What has always puzzled me is the apparent lack of recognition in too many adults that kids actually know when they have worked hard at something and when they have not. They are actually remarkably capable of appropriate self-assessment if they have permission to be less than perfect. "Great job!" as a response to every move a child makes can be confusing for that child and dilute her sense of real accomplishment.
I believe children learn the most when the adults in their lives recognize genuine hard work, regardless of the results. Over the years, I have consistently asked students of all ages to share with me the accomplishments of which they are most proud. Rarely do they describe things that were easy for them. Instead, they talk about working hard to improve a grade from a C to a B, or in earning a B+ from a teacher known to be a tough grader. They talk about overcoming obstacles. Frequently they are far better able to accept and acknowledge their weaknesses and needs than are their parents.
Given my aforementioned struggle, it is not surprising that I have become a huge fan of Nordic skiing and the best that it elicits from both youngsters and their parents. Last Friday I accompanied the newly formed Lake Tahoe School Nordic team to Tahoe City for the North Tahoe Pursuit races. Three weeks ago I ventured forth with our fledgling skiers on their second outing.
At the time, they were not a whole lot better than I, which is not saying much. In three weeks, they have become remarkably seasoned skiers. They have worked hard and made consistent progress. Most important, they have fallen in love with the sport and what it inspires in each of them.
Last Friday, each division, girls then boys, took off in a brightly colored horde. Six minutes or so later, the leaders came flying gracefully down the last incline and up the hill to the finish. They were working hard, pushing each other, in some cases a miraculously upright tangle of skis and poles. Parents and other students welcomed them with cheers and cowbells.
Six minutes or so after the leaders passed, the last competitors glided down the last incline and labored up the hill to the finish. They were working hard, pushing each other no less competitively than had the leaders. Parents and other students welcomed them with cheers and cowbells, celebrating their hard work and achievement. I love a sport where every child's progress is recognized and celebrated equally enthusiastically.
- Ruth Glass is headmaster at Lake Tahoe School. She can be reached for comment through her blog at www.laketahoeschool.org.