Nurturing Individuality this Summer
This is the first time
There’s ever been you,
So I wonder what wonderful things
You will do
These are words from one of the first books I was given when Isabelle was just a baby. The book is The Wonderful Things You Will Be by Emily Winfield Martin. I wish every new parent had a copy to read for themselves and for their child. The illustrations are fantastic, but the words are more meaningful with every passing year. I especially find myself pausing to reflect on the words in this book at the end of the school year.
As I think back to the start of the year, I realize how my kids have changed physically, emotionally, and mentally. It’s easy to notice these changes in kids. As adults we continue to develop and change, but perhaps more subtly and over a longer period of time, and hardly anyone is there pointing it out to us. Yet somehow change is expected at a sometimes breakneck pace for kids.
From keeping spelling at grade level, pressure to get standardized test scores up, to you-name-it, kids have a lot of expectations placed on them. There is a fine line between teaching responsibility — and stressing kids out. In the midst of shepherding children to achieve certain milestones and be comparable to peers, there can be a danger in them losing their individuality.
Let me explain.
The old expression that “no two kids are alike” really is true. One child might be advanced at reading, but struggle with anything related to athletic coordination. Another kid might have a mind for math, but might be a few steps behind in social-emotional development. Whatever the case, I am convinced that each child is endowed with a special gift that they can find with the right guidance.
It is not only the job of parents and caregivers, but also of school administrators and teachers, to look at each child’s potential, not dwell on weaknesses, and provide loving guidance. At school, the best guidance often comes when the mature humans create a cool new box that fits the kid instead of telling the kid to jump in the same old square box as peers, figuratively speaking. The job of adults in our school systems is not to judge, but to guide with compassion. It is all of our job as older generations to prepare today’s kids to be the best versions of themselves as they are, not to create a world where everyone is alike.
There is no perfect child. There is no perfect student. However— there is only one childhood and only one chance to be a student during those years. This is a chance for a love of learning to be shaped or for it to be put out like a candle, whether slowly or with one giant blow. When it comes down to it, you are your child’s best advocate to stand up for them in the midst of an educational system that is much bigger than both of you.
Here are some things to ask yourself as you reflect on the past school year:
- Do you feel your child’s individuality was nurtured? If so, how? If not, what was the impact?
- Was your child’s love of learning advanced? In what ways has that been reflected at home?
- Was your child allowed breathing room to develop into who they are meant to be in this world?
- Has your child’s attitude toward school changed since the start of the year? If so, what caused the change, whether good or bad?
- Did your child have the resources they needed to succeed in school this past year? If not, what could be done differently next year, and is there anything you can do to prepare for that this summer?
I look forward to summer not only because of the weather, but also because many kids find an interest they truly latch on to during these months that they might not have found during the school year. Often these interests are honed at one of the many camps offered in and around the Tulsa metro area or online camps that are so common these days. If your child is interested in a very specific hobby or subject, chances are there is a camp out there to match that interest.
Summer is a chance to sit back and watch all of the wonderful things your child can do without the guidelines and pressure of school. As a parent who talks to other parents across schools and states, summer comes with a deep breath of relief for the freedom our kids are about to have, whether they love school or not, because they can just be kids.
For me, it goes back to the book that’s still on Isabelle’s bookshelf. I wonder what wonderful things she will do. I hope that she continues to let learning excite her, explore new possibilities through summer camps, and dance to the beat of her own drum. When it is time to make the leap back into school this fall, I hope my kids and yours are grounded in who they are, just how they are.
And then I’ll look at you
And you’ll look at me
And I’ll love you,
Whoever you’ve grown up to be.
You can order The Wonderful Things You Will Be from Magic City Books online.