I am re-posting this because I am doing a series this week on how to get started with doing your own My Obstacle Courses at home. I have been getting a lot of emails from people who are excited to try this with their children but need a little direction about how to start. Hopefully the next few posts will help with that! As always, if you have any questions about a post, need specific modifications for ideas (making them easier or more challenging) or if you have a skill you’d like me to do a post on, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or post on My Obstacle Course’s Facebook page wall. I really love to hear from you and want to help you engage, encourage and empower your child!
Meet Them Where They Are – Part 1
I say it all of the time, “focus on meeting your child where they are developmentally and academically instead of where they are “supposed” to be according to their chronological age.” This is something that made a HUGE difference for us and really allowed us to help Andrew the most. I thought I would explain a bit more why I feel this way…
Closing The Gap
I don’t know if it was just me, but once we “officially” realized that he had delays (15-18 months old), the major push was to get him doing things his chronological peers were doing. There were gaps between them and it seemed like someone had pushed the pause button on his developmental growth (or at least slowed it drastically). I didn’t know what else to do but to accept the help from early intervention specialists and hope that everything I was doing would make a difference.
As the years progressed, the gaps became even bigger and when he started pre-school there was a more urgent need for him to suddenly behave and act like a typically developing 3-year-old. I continued to try to work with him on the skills that 3 year olds were supposed to be doing, saw very little improvement and wondered how I was ever going to close the gaps. I was frustrated and felt hopeless. (I now know why! Ah, hindsight!!)
I hear stories like this all of the time, especially with older children who have learning disabilities that don’t creep up until reading issues begin impacting their grades or they just cannot seem to grasp fundamental math concepts. As a parent, you sit in evaluation meetings or parent-teacher conferences hearing about your child’s struggles and feel like right then and there they should be working on flash cards, you’re on the phone trying to hire a tutor or begin purchasing computer programs or apps to quickly get your child doing what their peers are doing. Parents get the message that something needs to happen. It needs to happen quickly and it is important for their child’s success in school. What they aren’t usually told is where to start or what to do. Hopefully there are people out there who cannot relate to this and were sent home with very specific instructions and skills to work on but that was not my experience.
Why Should You Meet Them Where They Are?
If you want to help your child make progress, you need to meet them where they are so you can give them the foundation for later skills and concepts. If this is not done, it is like giving a 7-year-old a bike with NO training whatsoever – no little scooter, no big wheel type toy, no tricycle – just plopping them onto a bike and saying, “Here you go! Seven year olds are supposed to be able to ride bikes. You are seven, so you shall ride! See you at dinner time.” That would be absurd! The small steps that come before are huge in building the foundation for this other, more complex skill. They need to learn how to process what they are seeing while moving on a toy. They need to learn how to stop themselves, hopefully before or without crashing! They need to learn how to steer and pedal and do it all together on 3 or 4 wheels (if you count the training wheels). When they have these experiences, they are better prepared to get on a 2 wheel bike, balance themselves while pedaling, steering and applying the brakes when necessary. Developmental and academic skills are no different and expecting a child to fully understand or be able to do things before they have the prior skills necessary is only setting them up for failure.
Just Like In Goldilocks And The Three Bears: Too Easy, Too Hard, Just Right
This also plays a huge role in your child being motivated to engage in activities you provide. If you provide things that are too easy, they will be bored and will find things to do to entertain themselves. I always think of what it is like to be sitting in a meeting or class where I already know what they are discussing. What do I do? I tune it out, I doodle or make “To do” lists. I also learned firsthand what this looks like in children – avoidance behaviors and attention issues. Andrew taught me this when I was continually putting out ABC matching activities when he was actually ready for much more difficult things. What did he do? He looked at the ceiling, laid on the ground, found things to spin, basically he did anything but the activity and found ways to entertain himself. I finally asked him, “Is this too easy or too hard?” His response, “/oo/ /e/-/e/.” (Too easy.) I got the message, made things more challenging and he was back!
If you provide things that are too difficult, they may try at first but will eventually give up knowing that they cannot possibly succeed. Think about what it would be like to all of a sudden be dropped into a meeting at NASA right before a shuttle launch, unless of course you are a rocket scientist and in that case you’ll have to think of something different! You would probably tune out as well because there’s no way to fully understand everything that is being discussed without prior knowledge. For Andrew, this involved any sort of ball activity. Before realizing this, I was feeling like if we just continued to do what we had been doing but practiced it more, he would get it. Wrong! He needed to work on skills that were much more basic, like visual tracking, before being expected to stand a few feet away from me to pass and catch a ball. He showed me this by not looking at the ball. He would not try at all and the ball would just hit him in the chest and bounce away. Once I changed my approach, he was willing to play with me.
Providing activities that are just right for your child will not only help them build skills they are ready for, they will also be more motivated and excited to do them. Looking at an activity and knowing that success is possible makes it worth the time and energy required. I can see it in Andrew’s face when he gets to a station, he looks it over, almost like he is deciding if it’s something he can do and if so, then he jumps right in. Remember that motivating children to work on things they need is no different from motivating ourselves to do things we need to do. Those things may not be preferred activities but if there is a chance at success and that someone is there to help me if I get stuck, I know I’m more willing to give it a go!!
In Part 2 of this post, I will share with you how we figured out where Andrew was and offer some tools that you can use to do the same with your own child.
Thank you for allowing me to share with you – Margaret
Engage, Encourage and Empower!