Many would agree that to enjoy life to the full we must live in the present moment, appreciating what we have and being mindful of our surroundings and others.
Most would also agree that a certain amount of preparation for the future is necessary to both enjoy and deal with what lies ahead.
In previous posts I have referred to related ideas including The importance of emotional intelligence and the ability to delay gratification, for example when studying towards a degree or saving to purchase a car. Recently I wrote about future-proofing kids by preparing them to embrace the future. Schooling is often considered a preparation for the future, for ‘what you want to be when you grow up’.
Are the concepts of living in the present moment and preparing for the future contradictory?
Generally I would say that a balance is needed. We need to live in the present while making some preparation for the future. Hopefully the choices made can still be appreciated now and enjoyment is not all delayed until the future “When I . . .”
Recently I read an article that caused me some concern because, it seemed to me, there was little balance between appreciating the present and preparation for the future. Of greater concern was that the one for whom balance was lacking was not the one making the choice.
The article described a situation in which a 3½ year old was being taught to use scissors by an occupational therapist. The teaching, which had been occurring in regular sessions for over seven months, began before the child was three years of age.
Like I did, you might assume the child had a developmental delay which required regular sessions with the occupational therapist (OT). However no mention of that was made in the article.
The parent, writing the article, described feeling sad while watching the child experience difficulty in using the scissors. Additionally, it was mentioned that the child had not been requested by the parent to use scissors at home as it just made the child miserable.
After seven months the parent finally broached the subject with the OT, asking why the use of scissors was being pushed at this time.
It was the reported response of the OT that caused me greatest concern.
The OT explained that when the child entered kindergarten at age five, the ability to use scissors appropriately would be expected. The lessons in learning to use scissors were being given to avoid the child being behind when beginning kindergarten. The OT went on to further explain that the use of scissors was not developmentally appropriate until age five!
The OT, presumably a trained professional, who believed it was not developmentally appropriate for a child to be using scissors until age five, began teaching a child to use scissors before that child was even three years of age!
The child was miserable when using scissors and the parent was saddened when viewing the attempts!
If using scissors is developmentally appropriate at age five, then when the child is entering kindergarten, unless there is a development delay, coordination or muscular problem, that child will easily learn to use scissors appropriately, without the need for lessons from an OT. Forcing a child to practice a skill before developmentally ready is definitely not in the child’s best interests.
Think of the wonderful things about a child of two or three years of age; the things they are learning and doing. I am always amazed at how quickly children learn and progress. They grow up so quickly and are only little for such a short time. Why try to pressure them through to stages beyond their current development? These years of enormous growth and potential are precious. We are adults for most of our lives. What is wrong with appreciating the special two-ness or three-ness of a child? It will not matter in the future if scissors can be used at age three, age five or age seven.
If the child is constantly pressured to perform in ways that are not developmentally appropriate then feelings of inadequacy, loss of confidence and self-esteem may ensue, resulting in an ‘I can’t do it attitude’, a fear of failure and unwillingness to have a go. I believe many perceived behaviour problems are problems only because the expectations are not relevant to a child’s stage of development.
When adults strive for a child to achieve beyond the age expected norms they are not appreciating, but rather showing a lack of respect for, who the child is and for the stage of development. This is not living in the present. It is attempting to live in the future, which can become very scary if one does not feel it can approached with confidence.
One may hope this scissors example is an extreme and isolated incident, but sadly pressure placed upon children by expectations that are not developmentally appropriate is far too common.
Teaching colleagues here in Australia often express their dismay that children in the first three years of school are crying every day because they find the expectations upon their learning and behaviour too great.
I hear similar stories about trying to rush the children through from the UK, Canada and the USA. Maybe it is happening in other places too. Sadly the pressure of unrealistic expectations doesn’t achieve anything positive for the students, the teachers or the parents.
How different would schools be if, instead of being considered a preparation for life, they were focused on living life now? If three year olds were appreciated and respected as three year olds, five year olds as five year olds, and eight year olds as 8 year olds, rather than as apprentices for the adult they will one day be, how different would their school situation be?
An affirmation song I used to sing with my classes is one by Anne Infante called Just the way I am.
The song is made up of a series of verses about appreciating oneself just as one is – now, not in the future – including characteristics such as responsible, lovable, confident and friendly; for example:
I am beautiful and I like me,
I am beautiful and I like me,
I am beautiful and I like me,
Just the way I am.
I have written about using Anne’s songs of affirmation in previous posts, here and here.
What do you think? How have you seen developmentally appropriate programs in action? How have you seen them disregarded? What have been the effects?
Further reading: The Cost of Ignoring Developmentally Appropriate Practice