Process Over Product:
One of the first jobs I held out of college was working at a Montessori inspired preschool. As teachers, we were required to participate in monthly trainings. These trainings covered topics ranging from safety considerations in the classroom to instructional practices.
I heard the phrase, “Focus on process, not product,” repeatedly during these trainings. The context around this was referring to the children’s artwork. We were encouraged to let the children explore the process of creating art as opposed to showing them a model for them to copy. As for what the product was supposed to be, that was left up to the children’s imagination.
I strongly believe that focusing on the process applies to so many more areas than just children’s art. This idea is applicable to academic growth and overall development. It’s our job as adults to focus on instilling a love of learning in the children we work with. Most importantly, it should be our job to help our kids develop a love of life.
The recent decades have been met with a shift in educational goals for students; college seems to have become a major focus. So many parents have aspirations of seeing their kids attend college. And students as young as first grade dream of which colleges they will attend. High schoolers are often questioned by teachers and community members, “What college do you want to go to?” College is equated with success, with parents and educators alike buying into the narrative that college is the launch pad to a good career.
With college being such an important goal, many parents are anxious to do everything in their power to prepare their kids for college. Grades are often so important for many families. The GPA is seen as the gateway into a good college. Additionally, sports, extra-curriculars, music classes, and awards hold a lot of value as well, for colleges seek out well-rounded individuals. In some households, kids are expected to get involved in sports and extracurriculars so they can add those to their resume.
College has become the end product. And college isn’t the only end-product. Other end-goals can be overcoming an anxiety disorder, learning to read fluently or do math, mastering a musical instrument, learning a sport, etc. The end product or goal can be anything that parents desire their kids accomplish.
Regardless of the exact area of concern, overemphasis on any goal actually does more harm than good. Focus on the product can have parents moving their kids toward the next sequential step in the process without assessing the readiness of their child.
Focusing on the process demands an investment in whole child development. This includes an awareness that every child grows at their own pace. Readiness isn’t solely determined by intellectual development or proficiency, but rather by a few criteria (intellectual, emotional, social, and personal aspirations). And yes, social and emotional growth can affect a child’s performance in extra-curricular activities and academic performance.
The amount of time it takes for children to be ready for something isn’t determined by a certain number of months/years. It’s dependent on the individual child. The end result enables a child to function, learn, and persist in the face of hardship.
Stories of Students:
- I once lived with a roommate who worked as a private piano teacher. One of her piano students had a mom who wanted her son to progress to each next piece immediately after finishing learning a song. Her son could play all the notes at a decent tempo. His playing was a little too fast, though, and lacked musicality. As he advanced in his playing, the songs became trickier for him to learn due to his lack of mastery with more basic skills.
- Another case that I observed was in a first grade classroom. The first grade teacher was completing a unit on descriptive writing with her students. One of the students in particular would shrink back into the chair when asked to write any of his own ideas on paper. From my judgment, the student could have benefited from doing some free-writing to overcome his severe discomfort. Yet, the teacher continued to have the student complete the normal writing assignments.
- A third case involves a girl who was moved up to a more advanced math class in her middle school years. This student had no issue with understanding the content in her classes, yet struggled with communicating her basic needs to her teachers. She was moved up to the more advanced math class in her school. Despite not having any intellectual issues, she struggled with asking for help on assignments and turning her work in. She was pushed beyond her comfort zone without any thought to whether she could handle the work.
So what are some of the ways that you can support your kids on their own unique journey as they grow? How can we shift our focus to process rather than the end product?
There are a few ways we can do this. Praising effort over the end result is one way. When we praise effort and persistence, children learn that their continual persistence is what matters more than the results. They learn that mastery of a skill or subject happens when they persevere despite their mistakes.
Another way is to ask open-ended questions, questions that get kids to think about how to resolve their issues. I really like this strategy because you can see the wheels turning in their head.
My final suggestion would be to abandon your own personal expectations of when your child should master skills.