We hold our newborn infant in our arms. With awe and wonder, we marvel at the intricacy of this human being and the miracle of birth. We ponder all that lies ahead for this child; for the moments and days and years that will shape this child. We ask for God’s wisdom as we guide and instruct this little one. We want nothing but the best for this child! We want to do whatever is in our ability and capability to help this child reach his/her potential and beyond.
This idea of ‘reaching potential’ is filled with many thoughts, prayers, and dreams. But what exactly does this expression mean and is it even possible to reach one’s potential? Do we expect our child to be at the top of their classmates in academics? Do we expect our child to be at the top of their team in sports? Do we expect our child to become a child prodigy in music, math or arts? Or does ‘reaching potential’ simply mean…to be the best they can be in all areas of their life? I wonder, do any of us ever reach our full potential?
Dr. Kathleen Hopkins, past executive director for the National Institute for Learning Development wrote in her book, Teaching How to Learn in a What-to-Learn Culture, that the word, potential, implies that there is a lid or a ceiling. She suggests that perhaps propensity is a better word in that it is the limitless upward trajectory that assumes continuous improvement and possibility for change.
How can we possibly give our newborn child the opportunities that he or she needs to achieve their full potential? In a world where success is often measured by degrees, salary and social media posts, how do we help our children reach for the next height without setting unrealistic expectations? What can we, as parents and educators, do to inspire this upward trajectory?
Consider these tips for reaching the sky:
- Inspire a LOVE OF LEARNING – Follow the child’s interest. Expose him or her to a variety of experiences. Read aloud every day.
- Develop CRITICAL THINKING – Ask many ‘why’ and ‘how’ and ‘I wonder’ questions. Discover answers together. Discuss varying opinions with an open-mind.
- Mediate LEARNING – Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development taught us that a learner can do so much more with the help of someone who knows just a little more than he or she does. Be that mediator. Find that mediator. The mediator just needs to know a ‘little’ bit more than the learner.
- Build CONFIDENCE – Allow the child to take small steps to achieve success and thus, develop competence which will then build confidence. Success breeds confidence.
- Be the EXAMPLE – Pursuing our own interests is the best example for our children. Sharing our excitement; involving them in our struggles and successes.
- Cheer LOUDLY – Be the coach, the manager, the chauffeur and the waterboy. Our children, as all of us, need all the help and cheering we can get!
Now, what if our child seems uninterested in working towards or achieving their full potential? Is it even possible to get them out of the ‘rut’? Although it may seem hopeless, it’s important to start small with baby steps. Be the silent observer and detective and watch for the signs. What sparks a conversation with a friend? What brings out a tiny sparkle in their eye?
“The propensity to learn is innate, so it has not disappeared. It remains hidden under the cloaks of misbehaviour, frustration, apathy and the terrible fear of failure. Fear and anxiety are powerful destroyers of the desire to learn.” (Hopkins, 2010)
We can and should inspire our children to reach his/her potential and beyond, regardless of their perceived abilities or disabilities. The sky is the limit!