We’re crossing the meadow. It has rained, and in a dip in the landscape there’s a long and wide puddle, mushy with mud and dead leaves, with water enough to submerge a shoe. The puddle doesn’t extend that far on either side. A. sees the dry ground and walks to the other side. L. doesn’t move. Instead, over a good 15 minutes, L. takes up a challenge he has set for himself: to go through rather than around, to build a bridge on which to cross. He makes it harder, makes it take longer, to get to where we’re going—because that’s no longer the goal. He says to himself, “Think, think, think.” The gears are whirring so loud I can hear them!
Click on the photo below for a slideshow of the sequence of events as L. makes one attempt and another. He runs up the hill to get a heavy log, rolling and pushing it down. A. sits on the other side, patiently waiting. When L. asks for help A. runs to him back around the puddle, and the project becomes cooperative. A. contributes innovative ideas and L. incorporates them into his experiment, which, ultimately, fails. They kick the log idly. Energy expended, project concluded, frustration self-managed, they walk around the puddle and continue across the meadow. Because L. has a wet shoe and muddy pants, they start a conversation about how their families do the laundry.
But L. has made an extraordinary effort. He has pushed the limits of his imagination, and he has used his burgeoning cognitive ability to think hypothetically, to project a possible outcome. He’s also strengthening his physical muscles—and because physical efforts strengthen neural pathways, the brain and body are feeding each other’s development.
Engaged in a self-initiated, self-directed task, children’s deep desire to reach their own goal will push them farther than we might think possible. Intrinsic motivation for success with tasks they don’t want to do begins with experience pursuing things they do! To support the development of perseverance we can, as much as possible, provide children with the time and space for them to pursue whatever sparks their curiosity, the way they want to, and as long as it takes—even if there’s an easier way.