Thursday, January 23, 2014

Practice and improvement

I'm back after a holiday hiatus, and ready to start posting (occasionally) on Gifted Exchange, now in its 10th calendar year. That is starting to be some serious longevity in the blogging world!

My 6-year-old got a Wii for Christmas. He is particularly enamored with Mario Kart. On Christmas he started trying to play, and had a hard time getting through many a course. He'd steer wildly, fall of the course, and often end up in 12th place (out of 12 in each game).

But, video games being designed to keep you playing, he persevered. We let him play a fair amount -- it was holiday break, after all -- and within 72 hours, he'd improved a lot. He'd come in near the top of races, and pretty soon was winning against the computer. Something similar happened with the 4-year-old. He plays less often (he can't turn on the system by himself) but he can complete most courses and occasionally does so with reasonable speed.

It is one of the great wonders of the world that when we devote time and attention to something, we can improve. Often dramatically. Video games are designed to make this fun. But we can figure out a lot about our interests if we observe when we willingly do this in other spheres.

The 6-year-old also turns out to love lists and charts. He spent weeks studying his school phone directory, figuring out which classes were the biggest, which had the kids with the first last names in the alphabet, etc. Over the past few snowy days, he's been making a Star Wars dictionary. Each page has a letter, and each letter is illustrated by a character (What, you say, there aren't any Star Wars characters starting with some letters? He got around this by making up his own). He's also given each character a strength rating, and charted this in a color coded system.

Of course while doing this he's practicing writing and graphing. But I'm not having to nudge him to do this, the way I have to nudge reading actual stories right now. When we're intrigued by something, we practice without it being a chore. That's not to say we don't need to practice things that do feel like a chore. Sometimes joy comes later on in the process. But it's even more fun when it comes early.

Blogging has, over the years, become my writing practice activity of choice. I don't post often here, but I'm posting close to daily at www.lauravanderkam.com, and 3x/week for Fast Company. What activities do you most enjoy practicing? What do your children practice without nudging, and what have you learned about their interests from that?

3 comments:

Mary Vanderkam said...

Glad you're back, Laura. I missed Gifted Exchange!

Jen said...

Hi Laura,

For years, LEGOs have been the go-to for my 9-year-old daughter, who freebuilds an array of residential structures and vehicles with detailed interiors every chance she gets. Parts and projects cover most of the surfaces in her bedroom...Her most prized Christmas gifts this year were dozens of 1x4x3 windows/frames and the encyclopedic LEGO Minifigure Year by Year: A Visual History. She really likes the Architecture kits, but times herself to build them as quickly as possible, whereas her freebuilding is more relaxed, organic and open-ended thing.

Happy 2014!

Jen

Anonymous said...

I was wondering if you ever comment on the Tiger Mom approach to practice. I just read one paragraph about how she made her daughter perfect a song on the piano and I had to stop reading. It is my experience that we should be doing what comes natural. I don't believe in forcing anything. When we feel like singing, we sing. If we feel like dancing we dance. So, I don't feel like we are practicing, I feel like we are being ourselves. Do other species practice? I kind of thought that birds sing because bird sounds to our ears are melodious. The talents we have feel natural. How did society start forcing practice? Maybe people are trying to fit a certain profile or be a certain way and someone told them they have to, but do they have to?