Writing, naturally occurring

I spent part of a recent Sunday at a large family gathering.  There were 11 children under the age of 10 in attendance.  Some of the kids’ time was spent on a repeating rendition of the chicken dance, some was spent making vehicular use of a rolling chair found in a corner.  The last several minutes were spent using up leftover adhesive name tags.  Signs appeared on various family members’ clothing reading, among other things, “Free.” This was hilarious to them.

One of the younger and more active members of this under-10 crowd, a four year-old who is also the youngest of the three children in his immediate family, has only recently begun to learn to write.  As the name tag fun gathered momentum, I spotted him at a table apart from the others, bent over a pair of stickers. He’d pen one letter at a time, then run over to his mother to ask what came next in whatever he was trying to spell.  This was the only time I saw him stand still that day, and while he was at it, none of the many many potentially distracting components of his surroundings made even the smallest impression.

I was reminded that the skills we are most concerned about, the ones that we wring our hands over and, without meaning to often drive children away from, are naturally occurring in the course of what kids already want to do and care about in their days.  They show up differently for different kids, but if they’re useful, they show up.  This little guy saw his older siblings and cousins making delighted use of their capacity for writing, and that was enough to move him to interrupt his hum of activity and chatter in order to work on his own.  And he wasn’t trying to write signs.  He was just practicing the words.  He had the foresight to connect the task before him – of getting proficient with forming letters – with the fun the others were having.

Sometimes, when we’re worried about whether or not kids will be motivated to learn the handful of skills we are most concerned about “in time,” we forget that they have this capacity.  They have the capacity to see, all on their own, when something is worth toiling at even if it’s not possible to catch up to siblings or whomever else is providing the appealing example in time to participate in what has inspired them.