This morning on the radio, I heard that "Kids aren't born with ambition." It was one of those annoying "parenting minute" advertorials - a paid subscription advertisement from a mainstream parenting magazine masquerading as sage advice. Parents were instructed to assign ten tasks to their children during this school year. Then they are to observe which of them interests the kid and then pressure the kid into ambitiously cultivating those interests. Unfortunately, that manipulative pressure has a good chance of destroying a kid's basic interest in a topic, let alone any enthusiasm and energy (i.e. ambition) she might have had about pursuing it.
Of course kids are born with ambition! They are driven, right from birth, to accomplish things - to get from one side of the room to the other in an efficient way, to find the words that will make people understand their needs, to feed themselves and tie their own shoelaces, to climb ever higher on the playground equipment. Ambition is the strong desire to work hard to pursue something you want or need.
But what the parenting expert I heard on the radio was talking about involves second-hand "ambition." She was referring to the need schools and most parents have to get kids to do their homework, to turn in neatly written essays using pre-packaged templates, to pay attention in class, to study subjects in which they have no interest, to do well on tests, to focus on some kind of pre-determined-by-adults goal of material "success." A kid who balks at doing those things is said to be lacking ambition.
But what's happening there is that the adults' lack of respect for human nature in general and for their kids in particular is resulting in a turn-off of ambition. Kids are told they're not ambitious enough because they don't share the goals that adults have set for them. They lose their self-esteem because boredom and disinterest in inauthentic situations results in their being told they'll never make anything of themselves. They become passive followers because they're never allowed to make decisions for themselves. Paradoxically, adults who fail to respect and trust children's own needs and interests destroy their motivation.
This is actually not surprising because most adults have never seen a kid who has been respected - either because they have overly ambitious and untrusting parents or because their parents struggle to respect themselves let alone nurture and respect their children. Perhaps someday there will be enough life learners around to demonstrate to these adults what happens when children are allowed to remain motivated by their own interests, passions, and goals.
Wendy Priesnitzis a book author, award winning journalist, editor, former broadcaster and mother of two adult daughters. Along with her husband Rolf, she runs Life Media, an independent publishing business that Rolf founded in 1976 as The Alternate Press to publish books and Natural Life Magazine. Life Media now also publishes Life Learning Magazine and Natural Child Magazine, and a variety of websites about natural family living.
Wendy is an agent of change who, when she was barely out of her teens, recognized the need for rethinking how we work, play and educate ourselves in order to restore the planet's social and ecological balance. For the last forty years, her mission has been to help people understand the interconnections within the web of life on Earth and to encourage them to challenge the assumptions inherent in the often conflicting choices we make in our daily lives.
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We began educating our three children in 1985, when our eldest was aged five years. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn as they grew and explored and discovered this amazing world since the moment they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. I hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was!
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