Written by Shawna Wingert of Not the Former Things.
Too often, I spend a ton of time, energy and effort focused on what my children can’t do.
I am ashamed to admit it, but it’s true.
Will he ever really learn to read fluently?
Why is it so hard to memorize the times tables when he can complete complex math problems in his head?
When do I need to employ yet another tutor or educational therapist to help “fix” all the things my children cannot yet do?
Before I had my boys, I worked in corporate training and development. As part of my work, I was invited to attend a session at Gallup, as they introduced the concept of “Strengths Based Training.” It was based on the book, StrengthFinders, and the basic premise was this:
Managing and teaching to an individual’s strengths, exponentially increases productivity and learner satisfaction.
Moreover, the research showed that a learner, when allowed to progress in a ‘strengths based’ fashion, increased their overall capabilities, even in the areas that are weaknesses.
The weak areas actually improve significantly, when a strengths-based approach is taken, than when remediation and focus is centered on poor performing topics.
Six years ago, when my son was in first grade at a local public school, I felt like my professional background was screaming at me:
Not every subject should be equal!
The child who is excellent in math should be allowed to pursue science and history in a way that incorporates mathematics!
Don’t keep him in from recess because he didn’t complete the timed test! That’s not his strength anyway. It’s not statistically how he will best learn!
My strengths based professional development became one of the philosophical reasons we began homeschooling.
And yet, five years in, I still find myself spending more time and energy on the subjects that are areas of weakness. I know better. And yet, the desire to see improvement overwhelms my logical side over and over again.
I am not sure why.
I think it may have something to do with the fact that I am afraid, way too often, that I am failing these children and ‘what if he never learns to read or function in the world and I totally messed this homeschooling thing up and what will I record on a high school transcript in two years and did I mention that am freaked out that he will never learn to read‘?!?
Actually, I guess I am sure why.
In an effort to take myself out of the emotionally charged areas of homeschooling, and back into a more professional approach to learning, I created a learning plan for my boys. It is similar to what I would’ve done for a corporate manager ten years ago.
Here are the basic tenants of our strengths based learning plan:
- It clearly outlines my boys’ respective strengths (which incidentally, are often completely opposite), and the ways to incorporate areas of weakness into those strengths.
- The goal is not to ignore the areas in need of remediation. For example, my dyslexic ten-year-old would not be well served if we just ignored reading entirely, and only did math problems with chalk markers on the sliding glass door. But we don’t spend the majority of our time on formal reading instruction. The focus on reading is less obvious in terms of time and attention, than the focus on the subjects that are strengths.
- The majority of our time is spent on areas that are strengths. Science and history are huge for both of my boys. In fact, because these subjects are so strong, we easily devote 85% of our learning, both formal and informal, to these subjects.
- Future success and employment is viewed through the lens of strengths rather than weaknesses. The reality is that a child who is weak in math, will most likely not grow up to be an accountant. A child who struggles with dyslexia, will not likely grow up to be an English teacher. There are exceptions, of course, but typically our nature determines our interests, and ultimately our interests determine our ability to perform well as employees.Therefore, it is reasonable and actually wise to allow my children to develop their areas of strength. This prepares them well for the future.
As we have made this change in our homeschooling, the environment in our home has has also changed.
Although I cannot yet say that my boys are both making progress in all subjects based on this approach, I can tell you that they enjoy their days and are so much more productive. If nothing else, their level of growing confidence and poise in learning, spills over into any areas of weakness.
Being allowed to learn in a way that is most natural for their individual strengths, makes learning so much more effective and fun.
I’m happy. They’re happy. We are enjoying our lives.
And that just might be our greatest strength of all.
What ways have you found to focus on your child’s learning strengths?