Still avidly reading your blog and just read your listening article. I have a question: I started taking my daughter (28 months) to a gym class at a local community center (can’t afford the fancy kid gym classes), and I’m interested in your thoughts regarding her behavior and how best to deal with it.
My daughter in general is a fearless, fun little girl with tons of energy, so I figured the classes would be a great way to get that energy out. It is a community setting with toys, books and other fun things to explore so it’s hard sometimes to get her to focus on the actual class. Most of the time, she likes to just run around and do her own thing. So far, at the start of the class I guide her to get her involved by doing the tasks with her, and then after a while I let her do what she wants. I make sure she is respectful of the class and at times try to re-engage her with what is happening in the class – that’s why we are there.
My question is…should I be focusing on helping her listen to direction and focusing on the class, or should I let her just do what she wants, as long as it’s not destructive to the class and her surroundings? I think she is on that edge of learning and that, with my respectful guidance, I might help her to just focus on the class and task at hand. At the same time, though, I want her to have the freedom to get what she wants from the class on her own terms. Example, this morning: “I see you are interested in this toy but we are here to play on the mats. Want to come and see if you can play on the mat?” Most of the time she says yes, plays for a bit, then runs off. In the back of my mind I wonder, did I just manipulate her?
My instincts say we have a good balance, but which is more important — focus or freedom? What would be best for her at this age?
Thank you for any guidance and thoughts,
“What is more important – focus or freedom?” Hmmm… Thank you for this interesting question.
Both are important, but in this case, focus and freedom aren’t an either/or option… In fact, it is through the freedom to play as she wishes that your daughter will develop strong focus and listening abilities.
Your daughter will focus for much longer periods with activities she chooses, rather than those chosen for her in an adult directed class.
She will learn to listen more intently because she wants to (while you are reading her a favorite book, answering her questions, commenting on what she is choosing to do while she plays, for example), than she will when you are trying to engage her in an activity chosen by you or others (even though your approach sounds very respectful).
She is also likely to be a better listener if you limit the amount of times you ask her to listen. Save your “listening” requests for necessities, like giving her behavior boundaries, or enlisting her cooperation during diaper changes, dressing, bathing, mealtimes, etc.
If your daughter has the option of learning through play her way in the gym class setting, by all means allow her to do that. If not, I would question the benefit of the class at this age, which brings up a broader issue…
Do toddlers gain from adult-led learning and instruction? In my opinion (shared by most early childhood educators), the possible negatives to early instruction, even when it is as innocuous as a gym class, outweigh the benefits. Classes and lessons for infants and toddlers can discourage…
Autonomy and Self-Confidence
In the words of David Elkind (from his book Miseducation – Preschoolers At Risk), “Programs designed to teach three and four year olds to ski, play tennis, do karate, and engage in gymnastics miseducate young children… Very young children subjected to such instruction are in danger of learning to be overly dependent upon adults for guidance and direction. Their budding sense of autonomy is thus put at risk for no purpose. This danger is avoided, and the skills can be learned more effectively and efficiently, when they are taught at a later, more appropriate age.”
Enrolling a toddler who loves to dance at home in a dance class, for example, encourages her to move like everyone else. Once she learns the “right” way to dance, she is far more inclined to imitate, less likely to enjoy dancing her way.
Honestly, trying to coax a 2 year old to follow instructions when she is eager to explore her true interests sounds very tiring to me, besides being not worth the trouble (or money). I’d rather save my frustration for the activities that I have to insist on… like brushing teeth or going to bed.
However, there are a couple of BIG positives to classes… Classes give us something to do with our children in community with others. For that reason alone, joining a class makes total sense. Also, there are usually fun toys, materials and equipment you probably don’t have at home.
So, if your daughter is allowed to participate on her terms and use the facility the way she wishes (safely), it will be a productive class for her.
The key is not to “get” a child to focus, but rather to recognize her natural ability to focus on what interests her, allow and encourage it.
Children have so many years of instruction ahead of them from Kindergarten onwards… Trusting your daughter to be an inner-directed, independent and active learner in these first years is one of the best gifts you can give her.
Please let me know what you think. And thank you for reading the blog!
I share more about encouraging focus and listening skills in Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting
(Photo by Jude Keith Rose)