One of the most difficult challenges of parenting is striking the appropriate balance between putting kids in challenging situations and not asking them to do something they are unable to do. By definition, learning anything new requires a child to encounter an unfamiliar obstacle and overcome it. At the same time, we wouldn’t ask a seven year old to understand calculus as it would just be impossible for him and cause needless frustration.
This problem is particularly acute for us this year in terms of Jake’s learning of Spanish. We want him to learn the language and have sent him to a school where the majority of the curriculum is taught in Spanish and all of the children are native Spanish speakers. At the same time, we want to be sure that the environment provides him the tools he needs to grasp the language so that we are not assigning him an impossible task.
Adding to the complexity is that we have to rely on Jake to tell us how he’s doing. Over the past couple of weeks, each time we ask him how much he understands, he tells us “nothing” or “almost nothing.” Now, we have suspected that this is hyperbole designed to elicit sympathy, but honestly it has nagged at us. Have we been pushing him too hard?
Last week, I finally sat him down for a heart to heart and asked him, “seriously, how much do you understand?” He looked me in the eye and said “5%” I asked again “honestly, so if the teacher says 100 things, you only understand 5?” “Yes,” he said. To be sure we were communicating clearly, I gave him an example where I said “no” 95 times and then “yes” 5 times to be sure he was expressing the concept correctly. He responded that maybe 5% was too much and it was more like 4%. I was devastated. I’ve always thought that this trip would be so good for the kids, but maybe it’s just too much. Maybe, I’ve put my own aspirations ahead of my kid’s ability. I felt pretty crappy and resolved to look into this.
Fortunately,two days later, we had a meeting at the school with the principal to get a progress report on the kids. When I asked the principal the same question as to how much Jake understood she told me “100%”
“100%?! are you certain?”
She replied that there was no doubt. She said that Jake can follow the entire Spanish curriculum and act as instructed. While his teachers had previously would help him by speaking English from time to time, he had now reached the level where that was no longer necessary. While Jake has complained about this new situation, the teachers all agree that he is now ready to take this step and it is best for him.
I wanted to both jump for joy and run downstairs and wring his neck. I wish that there was some brilliant conclusion I could make from this story, but at this time I’m just happy that he is making progress. The one thing I can say is that it’s vitally important to go to a school where they know your kid. We have been very pleased with the school in this respect and it was reassuring to have a headmistress who was so intimately familiar with my kid.