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A Long Journey Starts with One Step

If we were to define "success," most people would think deeply enough to consider more than the capacity to acquire great wealth. We might think it is holding a "dream" job. It might also include mental and physical health, good personal relationships with friends, coworkers, and family, and a general sense of well-being of life. Not once, has there ever been a study that links early literacy or early numeracy to any of these aspects of "success," not even wealth. Never. The research conducted on successful people had found, rather, that their success comes from being resilient, motivated, great listeners, caring leaders and having the ability to work well and even handle conflict well with others. These are the skills and attributes children work on and develop when given ample opportunities to practice them when playing or being with their peers with minimum adult intervention. Our job as adults is to prepare an environment in which this would be possible, to keep an eye out for hazards (as opposed to risks children choose to take on their own), and where children have the opportunity to do things for themselves, even if it means failing, and failing often.

As a parent myself, I understand the pressures parents are under. On one hand there's a school of thought that insists we must drill and grill our youngest of children for fear that they may "fall behind," while there are those who are selling us on the idea that children are constantly at risk of abduction or injury and other dangers. These manufactured fears, have caused a generation of parents to behave as what is popularly called "helicopter or lawnmower parents," always hovering nearby, always ready to step in, always worried, warning, making sure any and all obstacles are out of their child's way, transferring their anxiety to their children and making them believe that they are helpless instead of helping them gain confidence and independence. To actually learn to do, and be in a way that will allow them to grow into well rounded human beings.

One of the most important things to do is to equip ourselves by learning to step back. This offers our children the opportunity to acquire the essential skills and attributes they will need as they mature.

Easier said than done, I know, because we live in a culture that tells us our job as parents is to fix things or to make things easy for our children or to soften the blows so that they don't get hurt and so we don't have to see them unhappy. It's a learning process I've witnessed, one that I have experienced myself as a parent. It is difficult and painful to "let go," and coming to trust your child enough and the world enough to know that those inevitable bumps and bruises our children experience, both physical and emotional, these "failures," are the true building blocks of success. We have to consciously push back against the culture of fear that has come to surround us if we are to raise truly successful adults.

When looked at from the wider perspective, they aren't failures at all, but rather weigh stations along their path.

This brings to mind the story of Thomas Edison who was fired from his first two jobs and failed a thousand times before inventing the light bulb. During an interview, a reporter jokingly asked him, “How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?” To which Edison replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”

Having the courage to fail. Now that's what heroes are made of. And we see them everyday at ROA.

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