Age 4 Independent Study

Happy smiling blond boy with sunshine on his faceIan’s ability to self-regulate and maintain focus, letting his natural curiosity guide exploration and learning.

Boy, that’s a mouthful, but for me, it’s summation is this: Give a kid enough space! Very early on in this adventure called parenting, I discovered that one thing I had to do was let Ian, to a large degree, forge his own path. Within the limits of safety and responsibility, of course. Now, at age 4, he naturally leans toward independent study.

This concept came to me slowly, and with some difficulty. I had been raised in a family that was somewhat strict and dogmatic. There were a lot of barriers and boundaries. As a result, I’ve had to really push myself and stretch to try new things and take chances. I only learned later in life that people do best when they are given the tools with which to learn, provided a safe space in which to experiment, and given the support, supervision, and encouragement to grow.

I learn from Ian daily, it’s been that way since day one. I’ve been shocked and pleasantly surprised to find that he stops eating when he is full, he seldom puts himself in harm’s way, and he prefers to work things out and figure out how to do things on his own. This, however, does not reduce our diligence as parents. For instance, we give him appropriate portions of food, and if he wants more he will ask. He doesn’t over eat; he stops when he is full. He used to have other ways of communicating this, but now he has language skills, and he just asks. It often amounts to being available more than being involved.

Blond toddler doing fish puzzleThe California Department of Education describes independent study as “a different way of learning. In independent study, a student is guided by a teacher….” That’s me and my wife Monica, and sometimes the guide is Ian! In terms of letting the dude’s curiosity guide his exploration and learning, sometimes I find that he wants to work independently, sometimes he wants to work together, but he most generally is very good at making clear which he wishes. It’s at these times that I must be compliant to his wishes and often forsake my own tendencies. I am rewarded for my patience and willingness to set aside my ego and desires when I step back and watch as he shocks me with his competence and willingness to push the boundaries of his growing skill set. His fundamental skills are growing and so is his confidence.

Blond haired toddler screeching after scattering blocksHe goes as far as he can with a project (which generally involves building something or putting something together), but he sometimes gets frustrated – these are the toughest scenarios for me to interpret. If I offer my help too soon, he gets very annoyed, but if I wait too long his frustration can get the best of him and it can turn to anger. At that point, we have a little chat about asking for help, and about how anger is a valid emotion; how we express anger is very important. It takes a while, as a parent, to understand that it is counterproductive to get upset about your child getting upset. It’s a fairly natural reaction that really doesn’t work. This is serious social-emotional work that pays great dividends.

I have often have taken this approach: I have tried to respond to Ian’s predicaments as I would if I were dealing with a friend’s mother who spoke no English. Suddenly I find myself slowing down, listening more closely, and trying to be comforting and accommodating, as opposed to acting omnipotent. I have learned from his efforts and successes that he is the one with the power, and quite often it is he who is the teacher. I try to stay close enough to be of assistance, but far enough away to allow him to stretch and grow. We’re partners in independent study, and I’m always learning how he learns best.

Post a comment and I’ll be happy to answer. Thanks for reading Rockin’ Fatherhood with Tony Conley!

About Tony Conley

I am a dad who is lucky enough to work from home. Being a writer therefore needn’t be a lonely job! My son, Ian, and my wife, Monica, are seldom out of ear’s reach, and that is a true gift. I’ve been attached to the music industry for over thirty years, and will probably be for another thirty, if I’m lucky!

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