Presenting Reasonable Challenges

**This is an archived blog post from January 23, 2012**

As of late, my son has been wanting to stay within his own little bubble of familiar and comforting subjects – which right now is primarily geography, although he also loves to talk about the solar system. He has not taken kindly to being corrected if he pronounces a country’s name wrong or told that he needs to be doing something different, new, and, challenging. He just wants to recite the countries in alphabetical order by continent ALL day long. It’s great he can do that…but he’s mastered it already, so my husband and I have been telling him he needs to move on to greater things – and he needs to stop driving Mommy and Daddy crazy by interrupting conversations by insisting we watch and listen to him recite the aforementioned countries in order. 

This morning I read an article on the Autism Support Network‘s website about not setting the bar too low for those with Autism. It highlights that sometimes people, namely parents and teachers, can sometimes fall into the trap of not giving children on the spectrum challenges and opportunities for them to do better or to learn new things. Too often are children, whether on the spectrum or not, praised for their mediocre efforts, even when they could have done much more. 

The article really hit home, considering the current battle with J.J. over learning to set aside his comfort tasks, such as naming the countries in the world, in order to learn new things – even if it is in the same subject area. Instead of just naming the countries one-by-one, why not learn more about each country? Instead of reciting the order of the planets over and over again, why not learn more about the properties, elements, etc. about each one? Why not learn about the rest of the dwarf planets, the moons, or the asteroids? What are asteroids exactly? Why makes a celestial body an asteroid, dwarf planet, moon, or meteroid? These are the questions we are encouraging our son to ask…just on his own “level”. We understand that even though he is an intelligent five year old, there is only so much he fully comprehends about the subjects he so loves. With that being said – memorization of facts about his favorite things is what sparks his interest into learning more and what begins the road to new information and new understandings for him. Sometimes it just takes a bit of pushing and prodding to get him to move on from one set of facts to another. 

My husband and I expect a lot out of our little boy, but I assure you we are not being tyrannical or unreasonable. He is young, but he is capable of great things. We’ve realized this for quite some time, which is why we never stop expecting more. The moment we become lenient on these things, J.J. slips into his comfort zone – and once he is there…it is very difficult to pull him back out again. 

It is a lot of hard work to keep J.J. challenged sometimes…because it also keeps me challenged as his mother and teacher. I have to learn what he wants to learn so that I may have conversations with him about the things he loves, and correct him when he is wrong about something (the will and pride in this boy is surprising!). I must then figure out – “What next?” I have to decide whether he is ready to learn the next level in a subject, or if the effort would be best used to review what we’ve learned, or if we should apply the time and effort to a different area altogether. 

It would be much easier to stick strictly to our homeschool curriculum. It would have been easier to do kindergarten instead of moving on to first grade. It would be easier to let him have much more free time every day so he may recite whatever information he pleases to no end. But that wouldn’t help J.J. one bit. I would be enabling J.J. to be lazy and take advantage of the way things come easily to him so often…and then when he becomes an adult he would inevitably fail at many things in life because he would not know how to handle challenges put before him. So it is my job to, in a sense, be tough on him. I have to keep him challenged in a way that allows him to progress, but also to thrive with the new challenges, tasks, and information.

It’s not being mean. It’s called Love. 


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