Sunday, October 2, 2016

Executive Skills and Grit

After my last article on Executive Skills for the 4 and 5 year old group, a reader asked if I could describe Executive Skills for older children.

The answer is a mixed bag.   I don't mean good and bad, I mean that it's mixed together with Grit in interesting ways.

Executive Skills for younger children consist of displaying self control, staying on task, and setting and completing goals during a craft project or imaginary play.   These are Baby Grit Skills or prerequisites for more advanced skills.  If you can teach your child Executive Skills, then they will read longer, concentrate more, be more engaged in the learning process, and have a much higher probability of going to a GAT program.

The parent can encourage Executive Skills as needed by recommending an activity, setting it up, or keeping the child engaged.  Sometimes the kids come up with the idea themselves, and the parent has to go to the craft store or rearrange the cushions for the fort.   Sometimes the child is building something and the parent suggests taking it to a much higher level.  Part of the time, the parent is just playing a role and making suggestions, the other time the child is playing a role and trying to keep up.

I consider Grit the next level, where the parent, becomes less and less involved as the child grows.

Therefore, my answer to Executive Skills for older children is to let them come up with the projects themselves, and drive to the craft store or help out as needed.    You're now in Grit territory.  To reiterate and add to my main point from the last Grit article, a parent only has to worry about 2 things for their child's academic success:
  1. Teach Grit.
  2. Get them into a GAT program of some kind, at least AP course by high school, so they'll be challenged, or at least teach Grit so they can eventually succeed at whatever they do.
To get from Executive skills at age 4 or 5, to Grit a few years later, you need a lot of projects.   I'm not sure where these are going to come from, so to be on the safe side, add music, art, especially drawing stuff, books, more books, activities like scouts, some books, trips to any museum or anything anywhere that charges admission and you can walk around looking at old stuff, and books.  And of course crafts, anything you can build by rearranging the furniture when your spouse is away, and turning everything into a song or slogan.  Sports isn't going to help at all; it's just going to eliminate your free time for projects.

At a young age, we spent a lot of time building projects and other things.  I did most of the doing, the explaining, the planning.  If my child came up with a project on his own, I would drop everything - piano practice, test prep, math, everything - and let them do it.  I have mentioned this repeatedly in articles going back years.   If the child makes a suggestion - go with it.

Failure is part of the process and the more the child does, the prouder you will be, but the more it will just stink.  Lack of proper planning, shoddy construction, lack of structural integrity, colors that aren't compatible on the color wheel, but if the kid did it herself, it's great.

Below I'm going to show you that my younger child is in the middle of this weekend.  Brace yourself. I don't normally discuss how great my kids are (aren't they all?) but on this topic your going to be exposed to the most awesome child on the planet who is in the (1 - population of the world)/(population of the world) percentile of Grit.   The older child is social, and always has 6 social irons in the social fire.  These are all top secret, need-to-know-basis and my security clearance was revoked when I saw his email last year.   The CIA could learn discretion from the older child.  So I'm only going to discuss the little one.

To preface the shock you are about to experience, lets go back to 2nd grade, when he showed up for school on the day when they were going to do their open time Bunicula project.   The topic and media were up to the child.  He brought sewing supplies, and to the surprise of the substitute teacher, produced this gem:

Next is my present on Father's day.  It's a Stuffed Daddy.   This was the moment where I realized that I have already succeeded as a parent and it's time to solve the violence problem in Chicago.  If I don't succeed, he will.

That red thing with the word "Math" printed on the front is supposed to be a book and not a coffee cup.  The great thing about self-driven projects is that they all succeed even though, as you can see, there are quite a few improvements that could be made.  My gray hair color, for example.  What's up with that?

A few weeks ago, his Harry Potter halloween costume arrived.  I like to buy costumes a few months early, maybe multiple costumes.  It should be obvious why.

Here is the front and back of his instructions to play Quiddich.  If his school projects get half this effort, he's going to Stanford.  Maybe soon.

Here are some of the other projects we are working on today.

The poster is his campaign for class president.   The class keeps losing recess because of talking, so the kids decided to elect a class president to fix it.  He won the primary and faces a little Polish girl who not only speaks Polish fluently, but likely trounces his verbal score on the annual standardized test.  (Curse you, GAT classmates!)  I was coopted into the campaign committee and spent last night helping make 28 campaign buttons.   His slogan is "Vote for Colin - and have fun again". Button making is boring for me.  I got reprimanded every time I snuck in an alternate slogan, like "Vote for Colin - use the force".  I warned him that after he wins the election (have a concession speech in case this doesn't happen), and the teacher announces that there is no office of the president, because she's the king, he is automatically the leader of the Rebel Alliance.

The little thing in front of the poster is a paper sculpture of a wizard riding a broom.  One night last week, he took an index card (of which I keep thousands on hand) and folded a rectangle.  What is that?, I asked.  "It's a leg", he replied, and kept folding.   45 minutes later, he folded and taped together a little wizard riding a broom.   He's always been good at Origami.  I credit practice for the COGAT folding question (see an old article of what I did with my time on Jury Duty, I'm not kidding about this).

The sticks represent potential wands he has been collecting, some of which he widdled with his late great-grandfather's electrician's knife which he sharpened on a diamond block.  I didn't include a picture of the pocked he sewed on to the inside of his cloak costume to hold the wand, but I think you already know this was trivial for him.

The frame in the back is the wizard trunk we started last weekend.  On Saturday morning, he announced "I need a wizard trunk".   I got out the saws and some old furring strips I had left over from turning our basement into the project room 12 years ago.  After watching a week of Harry Potter Puppet Pals (warning - lots of sarcasm, swearing, and a blizzard of vocabulary - we are immune to swearing and reserve it for potential future combat situations), we decided that the trunk needs more than a lid.  The front should open to reveal a stage with curtain, and the back should open to manage the puppets.  So today, I'm off to Home Depot to purchase more hinges.  He's on his own puppet-wise, but I see trips to Michaels in my future.

In the last article, I introduced the concept of "GAT Parent Skills".  In my next article, I'm going to introduce the key skill entitled "Learning or Telling".   There is quite a bit of work behind getting to this level of GRIT with your child, not to mention getting from reading to test prep to advanced math, and this is one of the more complicated involved skills.

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