Let me tell you a story. I learned to drive when I was 22 years old. I was about to begin my first placement in the Faculty of Education. I needed a car to get from my house to the placement, and so out of necessity, I figured out how to make this car work (safely).
- I took lots of classes. I even paid for some additional ones.
- I practised regularly with my step-dad: a very patient man, who helped me learn how to feel comfortable enough to move from driving in an empty parking lot to out on the road.
I could have learned to drive six years before I did, and if it wasn’t for this placement, I probably would have waited even longer to learn.
This wasn’t because I was lazy or scared. This was because many people with my kind of visual spatial needs never learn how to drive a car. I needed to figure out strategies to determine where I am on the road and where I need to be. This is why I started driving in an empty parking lot, and moved closer and closer to real cars before moving onto the road.
- This is also why I drive predominantly on city streets that I know.
- This is why I never drive on the highway, where I need to balance speed with multiple lanes of traffic and numerous cars.
- This is why I always park far, far away from other vehicles, and almost always in a pull-through spot, where I can drive out easily instead of estimating distance when backing out.
I share this story with you, not just because I love another reason to blog about parking (which I do 🙂 ), but because, when I see the world through a driving/parking lens, I see things differently. It’s then that I understand the thinking which for years I didn’t: if we know that a child can’t do something then why are we asking them to do so?
I realize that there are certain things that we expect kids to be able to do when they get to school.
- Sit and listen.
- Line up.
- Wait their turn.
- Use the washroom independently.
- Get dressed on their own.
- Pack their backpack.
- Feed themselves.
This is definitely not an exhaustive list, but it does highlight many things that are expected of school-age children. As Kindergarten educators, we realize that we might need to support some of this learning, especially in the early days.
- There are always those children that might benefit from sitting up close to the teacher, or even sitting on a chair, and require a prompt or two to listen quietly.
- There are always those children that might need a bathroom schedule or reminders to go.
- There are always those children that might need to learn the “coat flip” or require some help with zippers or buttons.
- There are always those children that might need help opening or closing containers, even as the year goes on.
And while some students might need more help than others, the assumption is that children will quickly learn how school works and what the expectations are, and they will conform. Conformity is not necessarily a bad thing. There are reasons that we have all of these expectations: from independence to ease in instruction to student safety. But as I’ve learned over the years, the reality is that not all children are at the same developmental level, and for a variety of reasons, what we expect may need to vary.
- Pushing harder isn’t going to work.
- Yelling and demanding isn’t going to make things better.
- Punishing isn’t going to help increase the speed at which these skills are developed.
- And accepting this reality, while truly seeing the individual needs of children, doesn’t mean that we’re being “soft” … and even if it does, being kind, caring, understanding, and compassionate are not bad things.
I think that I also needed this final reminder, and at times, have needed to stop and tell myself the importance of this again. For in its own way, it’s just like me with the driving/parking.
- Would someone have forced me to get my license at 16?
- Would yelling at me make me a better driver?
- Would rewards and punishments help me develop these driving/parking skills at a quicker rate?
- Would comparing me to every other driver out there, help somebody support me better?
When framed in this way, I think that it seems outrageous to have the same expectations for every individual, so why should this be true in any other case? I know why we have our school rules, and I know the benefits of having students follow them. But what if they really can’t? Is it okay to expect something different, while slowly and kindly supporting students in developing these lagging skills? I think back to a post that I wrote a while ago now, where I wondered if our goal is to punish or to understand. In my opinion, it’s the latter, even when at times this can be challenging. For if I didn’t have some people who understood me 18 years ago, and worked to support me, I wonder if I’d ever conquer the challenges of driving and parking. Now think about our kids, and imagine if something like the challenge of lining up, was just as hard and as frustrating as that.