Trust The Children

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Proximate Praise Promotes Progress

I am an advisor for a BSA Venture Crew. A group of about 10 young men whose purpose is to learn self-direction, leadership and teaching skills through the adventure activities that we conduct throughout the year. Several months ago, while transporting some of the crew on one of their activities, I asked them if there was a purpose behind the activity we were on or if the activity was all about just having fun. Either way would have been good for me. The answer I received surprised me.

One young man, launched into a fairly emotional tirade about activities that had no purpose, and that were only done so we could say we did them. Hiking without a purpose attached to it, was the major gripe. "I can't stand hiking just to hike." I could go on, but I got the idea that it was not enough to do something, they needed and wanted to know why.

As we have given each young man a chance to organize and lead activities, it is clear to me, that each "opportunity" is a fairly significant risk taken by them. To their credit, they seem to take the risk on as a challenge. The risk is that they will fail in front of their peers. Peer acceptance is a significant risk at this time in their lives, so I give them kudos for even attempting.

When things are running well, an adult is assigned as a coach to ensure that the particular youth leader thinks things out, prepares in advance, and organizes the flow of the event, so that it comes off well. When well prepared, the youth leader runs the event without adult intrusion and the event comes off well.

One might think that the process has ended here. In fact, I have found it has not. Even a well run activity will not contribute to the confidence level of a young man, IF he does not receive positive feedback from his peers right then. Too often, we assume that he must feel great, because we have observed from the wings, how well he has done. However, since his risk was not running the activity, but running it in front of his peers, it follows that his reward must come from them as well.

When an adult leader does not provide an opportunity for peer review and control it, by requiring that both Pro's and Con's be considered in the feedback, even a great performance can turn into a perception nightmare for the young man who was at the center of the performance.

It is critical, therefore, that two things occur. 1) Time be given at the end of an activity for feedback and reflection. 2) In a controlled fashion peers reward the risk taken with their attention and fair evaluation.

What does this have to do with home schooling? Everything. Our children don't live in a vacuum, never mind the socialization nay sayers. They do interact with others, if only other family members ie cousins, aunts and uncles. Their interaction with others can tell them indirectly, how their choices are playing out. Especially their choice to home school. If their efforts to be self directed, curious and industrious look good to us, and are pleasing to us, but go un-reinforced at the moment we observe it, the deposits into their emotional bank account will get drained off pretty quick when they interact with others. Acting from a deficit is painful for them. The result will be discouragement, personally and educationally.

Our children may claim that they don't need praise and reinforcement to continue home schooling. What they don't or won't say is that they in fact do much better when they ARE praised. Their efforts are more pleasing to them, when we observe their choices, praise them immediately as we observe their positive efforts and are verbal about it. After all, besides being our children, they are human beings as well.

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  • I am a believer in home education, and taught my children at home when I believed it was necessary & had my husband's approval.

    I have also enjoyed reading your post, and am now tagging you for a meme. See my post at for instructions. I can't wait to read about you!

    By Blogger Pinehurst in my Dreams, at 1:08 PM, May 08, 2007  

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