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In the Zone part I: Walking to the mailbox

I changed my major a few times.  And then changed it a few more times.  I tended to stay within the social science/education realm, but I remember trying on different titles because I assumed there was a PERFECT fit for me.  Hindsight has revealed that the only thing that fits perfectly is the thing that I wear around for a while and get comfortable with but at the time the decision had to be made I only had a small amount of maturity to work with.  Fortunately it was enough.

I finally settled on Marriage, Family and Human Development and because you had to choose an emphasis, which also conveniently shortened the title of your degree, I opted for Human Development.  In talking over the decision with my parents, who were supportive with some very valid concerns about marketability, I remember saying these words: “The most important thing I will ever do will be to be a wife and mother.  I want to know everything I can about that.”

As I climbed the mountain of infertility in later years, this degree proved to be  very useful and also kind of heartbreaking but that’s a blog for another day.   Today I want to talk about Lev.  As in Lev Vygotsky, a Russian Child Development theorist.  When you study Human Development you’re exposed to piles of theories and you’re left to sift through them, pull out the useful and applicable stuff and create your own unique ideas about how people grow.  I pulled quite a few pages from Lev’s book and this is why:  he posed the brilliant idea of a “zone of proximal development.”  The ZPD is composed of all the stuff just barely beyond what a child has currently mastered.  Think of it like a circle around the child with a fuzzy, glowing edge.  It’s the learning that can take place with a little bit of intentional assistance.  It’s not the learning that will take place 3 years from now or even 4 months from now, although you may be able to envision that as you get good.  It’s the thing to be learned right now.  So what you do is peer closely into the child’s current level of mastery and with an eye toward where they’re headed and you figure out just the very next thing they would want to learn.

Here’s an example:  My goal is for my daughter to know how to safely cross the street on her own.  According to my friend Lev, she will achieve this goal as we begin making small and incremental steps toward it.  So we started out crossing the street with her in her stroller, with me narrating our actions.  “We’re about to cross the street, we want to be safe so we’re looking for cars, we look both ways, etc.”  Then as she grew and began walking, we would cross holding hands.  We would still talk about looking both ways and checking for cars as we’d make our daily trek up the hill to the mailbox.  She would ask questions and I would offer answers, trying to make sure my words and ideas were appropriate for her language and cognitive development.  Now, she is working on walking across the street slowly next to me without holding hands.  As we cross the street, she is the one determining when it is safe or not to cross and I’m there to point things out or yank her back onto the sidewalk if necessary.  Please note that I am not advocating this exact approach for everyone because development is unique and heaven knows I don’t want a bunch of preschoolers running pell-mell across the street.  But for this child, in this situation, some groundwork has been laid, she’s aware of the responsibility I’m offering her and she is ready to learn a little more.  I imagine we’ll be in this place for a while as she gets comfortable with traffic but I’m not worried about pushing her along because I know the things that we’re doing will help her reach the goal.  So I am teaching her how to do something and letting her take ownership of it a little at a time until she will eventually be able to confidently make the maneuver on her own.  More tomorrow.


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