Thursday, March 13, 2008

MomCat Reviews: Your Child's Strengths

It was a mind-altering experience that I mentioned before on this blog, and that forced me to open my eyes to a clear fact--our school system was failing my son. And, worse than that was the understanding that I was failing my son as well.

After writing an article on area private schools a few months ago, I realized that my son wasn't a problem or unmotivated in his own public school classes. He was just being a world where only one type of learning is enforced and accepted.

As I watched the private school students who were his age, I felt a wave of familiarity come over me. I saw 2nd grade boys squirming in their seats--shoelaces untied, hair ruffled, and shirts half-tucked. And, I saw a teacher who clearly knew how to get these active boys attention and engage them as they were all participating in the conversation in their own way--some raising hands, others jumping up with the answer and still others quietly mumbling their thoughts.

In the end, I realized that what appealed to me most was the teacher's recognition of different learning styles, and her willingness to customize what she taught so that it spoke to many different types of kids who all learned in different ways. Now, while my husband and I still believe public school is best for our kids, I take comfort in knowing now that there are learning establishments that recognize that not everyone learns in the same way. I also know that, as a parent, I may need to recognize my children's learning styles and translate their school lessons into a format that they can understand, if they are to continue to thrive in public schools as they currently operate.

When I was approached by the Parent Bloggers Network to review Jenifer Fox's book, Your Child's Strengths: Discover Them, Develop Them, Use Them, I felt another wave of comfort overcome me. Here was an answer to the problem that I had a hard time admitting--that I had been just as guilty of trying to fit my son's rounded peg learning style into that squared hole public learning format. It was something that had left me utterly frustrated and feeling incapable of teaching him, and I can only imagine how he must have felt as well.

I have to admit, upon first perusal, this book intimidated me a bit. It's very clinical looking and not a short read. But, as I got into the first section, I already found myself fascinated by the discussions of learning disabilities and whether or not it is our children or our school systems that are actually disabled.

I buy into this "strengths movement" as well. I think that as I've gotten older, I have been able to draw some connections between previous jobs with which I found great joy and success and future ones that, while may seem as different as can be from the first jobs, had common responsibilities and duties that played to my own strengths.

And, I have seen my own parents display an ability to recognize and appreciate strengths as they watch my children in action, that I may not always have and I don't think they may have had as young parents either.

Just this past weekend, after a family egg hunt with my two children, my 5-year-old niece, and my cousins toddler daughter, my mother pulled me aside. She shared with me that she'd noticed that my son was actually purposely not picking up eggs and also slipping more into his sister and the toddler's basket when they weren't looking. She beamed and said, "He's really an amazing kid, you know."

As hard as it is to admit, it dawned on me that at the time she was noticing this special quality in my son, I had noticed his egg basket was less full and felt a second of annoyance--wondering if he'd gotten distracted, wasn't interested, felt unmotivated to find the eggs. My mind had automatically gone to that twinge of frustration I feel when he doesn't get ready each morning, or finish his homework without my prodding him a million times, instead of instantly recognizing what a beautiful and considerate soul he has.

That, in a nutshell, is why Your Child's Strengths was tailor-made for me at this point in my life, and can speak to many parents out there. Sometimes when you're in the thick of parenting, especially with your first born, you tend to overreact, worry, and obsess when you see that your children are not fitting the mold society places upon them. What I've learned from the Strengths Awakening portion of this book is that recognizing these talents and strengths in our own personalities and our children's and gearing our home lives to support those strengths, gives our kids a great gift of self-awareness and confidence as they're growing up. A gift that I wish I'd had as an insecure teenager...and adult for that matter.

One book exercise has you list chores you enjoy doing and ones you hate, and then you detail why you feel that way for each. The author suggests that parents gear family chores around this. I like this idea and plan to go through it with my kids. However, my one issue with some of the strengths focus is this--life doesn't always play to our strengths. As an adult, I have to take out the trash and clean the dishes--two chores that I completely hate. I can't just chose to only do the things that play to my talents or that I enjoy, because the dirty work must get done too. But, I see that, by being aware of their talents and interests, it can help me guide my kids into choosing activities and jobs that interest and suit them, which in turn will build their self esteem.

Now, I'm diving into the workbook portion of Your Child's Strengths. The book says that the exercises should take you about six months (!!!) to work through. This is a big disconcerting and overwhelming to a reader, I have to say, but I'm going to do some for myself and see where I get and then look at having my son work through some of the exercises with me. I look forward to seeing what we both discover on this journey of strength awareness and how it will change my parenting approach.

I have to mention one small nit-pick though. As an editor and a writer by profession, I have come across a typo or two in books I've read over the years. Most often, they are the sort where you realize the spell-checker missed it for a reason. This book, however, has several really glaring misspellings that I know would have been caught by a simple spell check. This dings the credibility of a book to me, and I have to imagine it would with other readers, so it is unfortunate.

All and all though, Your Child's Strengths, is a book that will be on my bookshelf for awhile as I refer back to the exercises and sections as my children grow older. And, it is one that I hope will help me alter my parenting style to one that is rooted in positivity and loving my children for the strengths that God gave them, instead of noticing their areas of weakness. And, perhaps, I will learn to do the same as I look in the mirror and measure my own life as well.

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Blogger LadyBugCrossing said...

Sounds like a terrific book - even with the typos.

Children do have different learning styles. If your child's current teacher is only teaching to one learning style, you need to make sure that doesn't happen next year. Visit the classrooms for the next grade level. Sit in the back of the class and watch. You'll find the best fit for your child. The Principals tell you that the teachers know the children best and can find the best fit. Obviously, that is not the case. You are going to have to fight for what you need and for what you pay taxes...

Best of luck and let me know how it goes! I'm over here cheering you on!!!


5:52 AM, March 14, 2008  
Blogger kristi said...

Great post! I feel like I have to always pump my son up to family members because sometimes they go on and on about TC's quirky ways!

BTW, I hate typos too!

2:32 PM, March 14, 2008  
Blogger Babs said...

Did you know you misspelled typo? Was that on purpose? : )

5:09 PM, March 14, 2008  
Blogger Crazy MomCat said...

Uh, yeah...I did that on purpose. Yeah, Babs...that's the ticket!

Wait, what misspelling? I don't think it is there anymore. Maybe you misread that. (giggle)

Tired eyes, last minute was inevitable I guess!

10:00 PM, March 14, 2008  
Blogger Nicole said...

I love this post! I just had a teacher conference with my kindergarner's teacher last week and she was gravely concerned that he isn't reading yet. When I was in kinder we took naps and finger painted! I told her my first son didn't read until 1st grade and now he's one of the best readers in his class. I am not concerned! Why do they try to hurry things that can't be hurried??? What's the damn rush? They are children, not products on an assembly line.

That book sounds good but I know what you mean about typos ;-) I'll have to check it out!

4:20 PM, March 15, 2008  
Blogger Dipu said...

I always assumed type-o was your running joke or something...

3:29 PM, March 16, 2008  

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