January 8, 2008

Don’t Box ‘Em In

Each year our community sponsors a number of family-friendly New Year’s Eve events. This year – with our five- and six-year old daughters – we tried the ice skating venue for the first time.

Rachel managed exactly as I’d thought both girls would: She needed either my husband or me for balance and still fell at least as much as she remained upright. I was proud of her, though, because she laughed off her tumbles and got right back up to keep trying.

Based on past experiences, I generally view Rachel as the more “body smart” of my two daughters. Abigail has shown age-appropriate physical abilities, but Rachel’s skills stood out. So watching Abbie on the ice left me dumbstruck!

Within minutes, she had mastered the proper gliding gait. When she held my hand, she sped so quickly that she dragged me behind her. By the end of the evening, she floated along independently, looking for all the world as if she’d been born skating. Needless to say, I’ve honored her subsequent request to look into skating lessons!

Which brought to mind José, one of many wonderful teens I was privileged to know during my career as a public school teacher. José mastered English quickly upon his arrival in the U.S. He excelled in many high school classes. He was a leader and positive role-model among his peers and in the community. But never once did I imagine him in the theater!

Then, during his senior year, the drama teacher approached José about auditioning for a role in West Side Story, mainly with the hope that José’s presence would encourage more Latino students to try out. José agreed. And – much to everyone’s surprise and delight – he won the lead role of Bernardo. Unbeknownst to even those of us who’d known him well for years, this young man could act and sing. And he absolutely stole the show!

As parents and teachers, we help our kids tremendously by observing their obvious strengths and encouraging them to pursue related activities. At the same time, we need to avoid the problem of pigeon-holing – of putting our kids into “boxes” based only on what we see. Instead, we should offer opportunities to help awaken as many of their multiple intelligences as possible. And we can affirm their desires to take healthy risks in new endeavors. In so doing, we give them security without boxing them in.


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