Process Over Product:
One of my first jobs out of college was working at a Montessori preschool. One of the phrases I heard was, “Focus on process, not product.” Within the context of the preschool, this mostly referred to their artwork. Rather than showing a model of a piece of art and having the children copy that model, the children were encouraged to explore the process of creating artwork. As for what the product was supposed to be, that was left up to the children’s imagination.
But enough about art. I believe that focusing on the process applies to so many more areas than just children’s art. I think this idea can be applicable to math, science, reading, writing, social-emotional development, and the overall development of children that spans 18 years (more or less). And the latter is what I want to address in this post.
Within recent decades, college seems to have become a major focus. So many parents have aspirations of seeing their kids attend college, and students dream of which colleges they will attend. I remember as a high schooler, one of the most common questions teachers would ask their classes is ,”What college do you want to go to?” College has become a symbol of success, with parents and educators alike buying into the narrative that college is the launch pad to a good career.
With college having become such an important marker post-high school, many parents are anxious to do anything and everything in their power to prepare their kids for that destination. Grades become so important for many families. The GPA is seen as the gateway into a good college. (I remember my parents taking a huge interest in my high school GPA.) Additionally, sports, extra-curriculars, music classes, and awards hold a lot of value as well, for we know colleges seek out well-rounded individuals. In some households, it’s expected that the children take up a few sports and extracurriculars so they can add those to their resume.
College, in this case, has become the end product (well, technically the job after college is the end goal). And college isn’t the only example of this focus on product. The product, or end goal, that parents think of can be overcoming an anxiety disorder, learning to read fluently, learning to do math, learning a musical instrument, learning a sport, etc. The end product or goal can be anything that parents desire their kids accomplish or learn. Regardless of the exact area of concern, the overemphasis on this goal actually does more harm than good. The focus on the product can have parents moving their kids on to the next sequential step without first 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, but rather by a few criteria (intellectual, emotional, social, and personal aspirations). And yes, social and emotional growth can affect various activities that a child is enrolled in and their academic performance. And the amount of time it takes for children to feel ready isn’t determined by a certain number of months/years. It varies from child to child. The end result enables a child to function, learn, and persist in the face of hardship.
Stories of Students:
For instance, I once had a roommate who worked as a private piano teacher. One of her students had a mom who wanted her son to progress to the next piece immediately after finishing the previous song. Her son could play all the notes at a decent tempo (sometimes his playing was a little too fast), but his playing lacked musicality. As he advanced in his playing, the songs became trickier for him 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.
Another 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 we can support 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.