Some Things Take Time

Jessica and I took an adventurous walk yesterday, trying to get better acquainted with our new surroundings. Having recently moved we are becoming adept explorers, letting curiosity be our guide as we try new things and experience new places.

About halfway down a tree-lined street nestled in the shadow of the mountains I noticed that what I thought were light colored leaves were actually puffy seed pods. We gently pulled a few of the velvety pods from a tree admiring the full bright green seeds ensconced within them. Upon further inspection we found some more mature seed pods drying out on the ground exposing seeds that were weathered, dry and dark. While the shiny bright beauty of the newly birthed seeds, protected in their green cocoons were what caught my attention, they were not the seeds that were primed to grow. As we peered closely at the ground and sifted through crackly brown casings that pulled away easily from the dry seeds I was reminded that nature usually seasons seeds over time as she prepares them for growth. Their potential cannot be rushed but rather nurtured, letting it develop intentionally over time. I think the same goes for children, relationships, ideas and experiences. It can be hard to wait patiently for something or someone because the process of change can seem laboriously long. But people are a lot like seeds and when the conditions are right and the seed is ready the resulting beauty is usually worth the wait.

Take Action: If you've already applied this post to your life thanks for reading, please come back soon!

If you need some help to take the leap from story to action, here you go:
Think for a minute about a relationship (family, romantic, friendship, etc) that you're in that has potential. Consider the beautiful things that could come from that relationship. Focus on one of those beautiful things and then think about one thing you could do today to support and work toward that potential. So if I want to cultivate a stronger relationship with my daughter so that she'll talk openly with me when she's a teenager, I will strengthen our connection today by listening intently to her 8 year old stories when she wants to tell them to me. By listening today I'm building a little pod around the seed that is our relationship, creating space for it to grow and change and become what it's meant to become. As always, I'd love to hear your epiphanies!

In love and nature,

In the Zone part II or, Why Lev is fabulous

I may be Lev Vygotsky’s biggest fan because I find universal application for his theory.  It is applicable for any developing individual or relationship in any situation: formal, social, spiritual, etc.  I believe it creates the optimal environment for development because it is, by nature, individual, continuous and supported.

There is only 1 zone of proximal development around me.  There’s only one around you.  The things in our individual zones may be similar at this moment but our personalities, our past learning and our future goals influence how things play out in the zone right now.  Even with all that similarity and perspective though, there’s no competition, just extremely focused development.   In order to achieve that kind of focus, it helps to cultivate an awareness (awareness, not mastery) of as many aspects of development as possible ( i.e. social, spiritual, emotional, cognitive, language, motor).   Eventually I hope I to create ideas that respect my daughter’s development in all those different areas.  Right now, I am just learning and I can only concentrate on one or two at a time.

The theory respects the fact that learning is always happening.  There are big debates in Human Development about continuous learning versus learning that occurs in defined steps.  I believe both are important to keep in mind but when it comes to being intentional about day-to-day growth I stand firmly with the continuous folks.  The relief-inspiring thing about the ZPD is that one can jettison a lot of worries about developmental hurdles.  If I keep development goals in mind they play a role in my current decisions but I can toss any unrealistic expectations out the window.  The main focus becomes the small, incremental development occurring and there’s a lot of peace that comes with slow and steady development.

Ideally, there is always someone on the scaffolding, intentionally playing a part in the construction of the individual, until that just-developed part is strong enough to stand on it’s own and then the scaffolding moves up a little higher.  This guide, far from creating a child, is helping the child to build him/her self by offering knowledge, experiences, love and the chance to practice.  The richness and support of the environment offered by the guide can influence the direction and quality of the learning. (Please note that I said ‘can’…not ‘always does’).

The Zone of Proximal Development is also forgiving.   Rest assured that any principle I practice has to contain a wide allowance for error because I have to make quite a few mistakes in order to really understand something.  With the ZPD, I am wrong a lot because I’m constantly guessing as to what is or is not in the zone.  Listening to and watching the individual can give you clues as to when you’re working in the ZPD.  For my daughter, the learning in the zone usually engages her (and me because it’s fun to watch well-timed development happen) and she’s listening and excited at the prospect of a new responsibility.  Many times, if we’ve discovered something in the zone, my daughter will want to repeat the task or request more information or help.  It’s kind of a game though, because the nature of development is that it changes people so what worked really well one week might not work the same magic another week.  So I think creatively and adjust with either a similar experience at the same skill level or I respect that some learning has happened and I move up a little bit.  But the point is, with practice, I believe the teaching has the potential to become as beautiful and fluid as the development.

What do you think of Mr. Vygotsky’s theory?  Does it feel useful to you?  How have you experienced it’s application?  Personally, I’m really glad we met all those years ago in the Smith Family Living Center.  Thank you Lev, thank you.


In the Zone part I: Walking to the mailbox

I changed my major a few times.  And then changed it a few more times.  I tended to stay within the social science/education realm, but I remember trying on different titles because I assumed there was a PERFECT fit for me.  Hindsight has revealed that the only thing that fits perfectly is the thing that I wear around for a while and get comfortable with but at the time the decision had to be made I only had a small amount of maturity to work with.  Fortunately it was enough.

I finally settled on Marriage, Family and Human Development and because you had to choose an emphasis, which also conveniently shortened the title of your degree, I opted for Human Development.  In talking over the decision with my parents, who were supportive with some very valid concerns about marketability, I remember saying these words: “The most important thing I will ever do will be to be a wife and mother.  I want to know everything I can about that.”

As I climbed the mountain of infertility in later years, this degree proved to be  very useful and also kind of heartbreaking but that’s a blog for another day.   Today I want to talk about Lev.  As in Lev Vygotsky, a Russian Child Development theorist.  When you study Human Development you’re exposed to piles of theories and you’re left to sift through them, pull out the useful and applicable stuff and create your own unique ideas about how people grow.  I pulled quite a few pages from Lev’s book and this is why:  he posed the brilliant idea of a “zone of proximal development.”  The ZPD is composed of all the stuff just barely beyond what a child has currently mastered.  Think of it like a circle around the child with a fuzzy, glowing edge.  It’s the learning that can take place with a little bit of intentional assistance.  It’s not the learning that will take place 3 years from now or even 4 months from now, although you may be able to envision that as you get good.  It’s the thing to be learned right now.  So what you do is peer closely into the child’s current level of mastery and with an eye toward where they’re headed and you figure out just the very next thing they would want to learn.

Here’s an example:  My goal is for my daughter to know how to safely cross the street on her own.  According to my friend Lev, she will achieve this goal as we begin making small and incremental steps toward it.  So we started out crossing the street with her in her stroller, with me narrating our actions.  “We’re about to cross the street, we want to be safe so we’re looking for cars, we look both ways, etc.”  Then as she grew and began walking, we would cross holding hands.  We would still talk about looking both ways and checking for cars as we’d make our daily trek up the hill to the mailbox.  She would ask questions and I would offer answers, trying to make sure my words and ideas were appropriate for her language and cognitive development.  Now, she is working on walking across the street slowly next to me without holding hands.  As we cross the street, she is the one determining when it is safe or not to cross and I’m there to point things out or yank her back onto the sidewalk if necessary.  Please note that I am not advocating this exact approach for everyone because development is unique and heaven knows I don’t want a bunch of preschoolers running pell-mell across the street.  But for this child, in this situation, some groundwork has been laid, she’s aware of the responsibility I’m offering her and she is ready to learn a little more.  I imagine we’ll be in this place for a while as she gets comfortable with traffic but I’m not worried about pushing her along because I know the things that we’re doing will help her reach the goal.  So I am teaching her how to do something and letting her take ownership of it a little at a time until she will eventually be able to confidently make the maneuver on her own.  More tomorrow.