Teach the Child You See
Updated: Sep 18, 2019
"That window is crap!" I blurted out.
Not my most elegantly phrased response.
She looked scared to believe me, but relieved.
The mother of an adorable little girl, age 5, had just confessed her concern about missing "the window of opportunity" for music study. I'd suggested that her daughter, Sarah, wait another year before starting lessons with me. Sarah is starting kindergarten and I think she'll do much better if she waits a little bit longer. She has some physical challenges and spends time working on strength and coordination with her Occupational Therapist. She's obviously bright and I'm certain she'll do well if she does starts when she's ready. In my professional opinion, now is simply not the best time for her.
There have always been people poised and ready to pounce on nervous parents.
When I was six months pregnant with my son Bryce, an older woman asked me, "Are you reading to him?" "Uh, no," I answered, not even sure what she meant. I thought I was doing pretty well since he was hearing fabulous music in utero on a daily basis.
"Oh, they can hear for months before they're born and you need to begin reading WAY before they're born."
It wasn't enough for her that I was playing him beautiful music. (I'd just recorded an entire album of Debussy when I was six months pregnant with Bryce. I remember it vividly. He'd fallen sound asleep when I was playing Jimbo's Lullaby. When I started the loud chords of Golliwogg's Cakewalk he started frantically kicking. It was very distracting!)
She thought I needed to be reading aloud to him. It was my first run-in with guilt before birth.
There's a popular book called 10,000 Hours: You Become What You Practice that tells you it takes a minimum 10,000 hours to excel at anything. Parents, already an anxious bunch, rush to get their children started on those hours. Combine that with the popular theories about "windows" of opportunity for everything from speech acquisition to the perfecting a tennis serve, and you have the perfect recipe for the 21st century breed of parental angst. It's not that there isn't truth in some of these theories, it's that more often than not they distract parents and teachers from what matters. In their efforts to do the "right thing" or the "best thing" for their child, parents inadvertently forget to look at the most important part of that equation: their child.
What's a parent to do in the face of all this (mis)information fueling our anxious minds?
As parents, when we ask ourselves if it's the "right" time to do something, we're asking the wrong question. There isn't such a thing as a "right" time to do something. There are only different children with their individual needs. Here's an example from my own experience. My son couldn't tie his shoes until he was eleven years old. My daughter could tie a bow behind her back by the age of four. Is it realistic to think that the criteria I would use for one of these children would fit the other? Buying into the idea of "right" puts us in the position of measuring our children by an imaginary standard that can only fog up the window through which we see our own child.
And that's not even mentioning the silliness of glamorizing early specialization.
Childhood is a time for experimentation and dabbling. It's a time for taking the time to be a kid. Kids shouldn't be trying to be experts. Being an expert in one area means that the other areas aren't getting enough attention. Practicing for hours a day when you're eight-years-old means you're not spending enough time at the playground.
Parent the child you have. Teach the child you see. Stop worrying about windows of time other people say exist. The only window you need to look through is the one that looks clearly out onto the child you love. The child you teach.
Keep it clean, ask for help when it gets fogged up, and most of all, trust your own instincts.