Children are capable of more than we think

Kids can do a lot more than we may think they can.  I’ve learned that first hand after cycling 24,000 miles with my children in the past 3.5 years.

People ask me for advice all the time – how can they take a big adventure with their kids?  What little tidbits of information can I pass on to help them plan their own family adventure in various parts of the world?  I think they expect me to say something like, “Take your child out cycling regularly to build up his strength,” or “Read about the places you’ll visit beforehand.”  But honestly, the best bit of advice I can give is to never doubt your child.  Never, ever doubt your child – not even for one nanosecond.

You see, children have this uncanny ability to live up to their parents’ expectations.  Somehow, kids know exactly what their parents expect them to do – and they do exactly that.  If parents expect their children to pedal around the block, they’ll do it!!  And if parents expect their children to cycle around the world, they’ll do that too.  It’s us – as parents – who tend to limit our children.

We are the ones who look at our kids and say, “You’re just a kid.  You can’t do that!”  But do we ever ask our kids what they can do?  Rarely.  We tend to assume they can’t do it – and so they can’t.  Or maybe we assume they won’t do it – so they won’t.

I remember way back when I taught first grade for the first time.  I had always taught older kids and had no idea what first graders could or could not do.  My school had no curriculum to guide me, and very little in the way of books – so I made my own way through that first year.  It was a challenge in many ways, but I just modified what I had done with my older kids and did that with my younger ones.

I taught my six-year-olds all about atoms and molecules that year.  They became protons and neutrons crammed into a nucleus or electrons spinning around it and they made models of atoms using Styrofoam balls for the particles.  Once my kids understood all about molecules we moved on to surface tension and density and air pressure and all kinds of complicated scientific concepts.  It never occurred to me that my students couldn’t learn it all – so they did.  Each and every one of those little guys went home at night and explained to their parents all about how the polarity in a water molecule caused surface tension – and how we could weaken that tension by putting soap on it.

Then I went to university to work on my master’s degree, and talked with many other first grade teachers.  “You teach your kids that?” they asked.  “First graders aren’t capable of learning that!”  And you know what?  I have no doubt whatsoever that their first graders weren’t capable of learning it – because they weren’t expected to.  In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t know six-year-olds couldn’t learn all those advanced scientific concepts – because I had a blast teaching it to them!

Taking kids on any adventure is exactly the same – simply expect them to do it, and they will.  Expect them to go out and have the time of their life and love the freedom and opportunities your travel gives them – and they will.  They’ll thrive on the opportunity to explore and discover the wonders of nature on their own.  Kids can do a lot more than we give them credit for, but we have to allow them to do it – by believing in them.

DAvy on my bike

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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6 Responses to Children are capable of more than we think

  1. Casandra Wheeler October 25, 2010 at 8:47 pm #

    Thank you so much for the reminder and encouragement. I can only hope and pray I don’t get in the way of my sons capacity for life!

  2. Jacqueline October 26, 2010 at 10:46 am #

    Good for you! I love the idea of teaching molecular science to first graders. 🙂

    An open mind, creativity and tons of energy give children a great capacity for learning. Too bad so many adults stick to curricula and experiences which don’t allow them to expand their horizons.

  3. Wendy Sewell October 31, 2010 at 1:19 pm #

    Amen! I taught at a school with 90%+ non-native English speakers and below the poverty line. Guess what? Despite what you might have heard, they can learn stuff, too! 😉 Although I have to say we never covered the atom – but we did spend plenty of time on the practical applications of soap! 😉

    Of course, in terms of expectations, it works the other way, too. I cringe when I see kids wearing clothes that proclaim, “Mommy and Daddy agree – I’m in charge!” or “Mommy’s/Daddy’s little monster!” Um, hello – really!? WHY???

  4. Allison October 31, 2010 at 5:26 pm #

    Well said! Thanks for the great post.

    Just came across your blog and look forward to reading more about your adventure.

  5. Alyson September 2, 2014 at 4:04 pm #

    Love it Nancy! You know we homeschool, unschool even. My boys were nailing science at 6. We’re done with junior school science and onto university level already. They get it and they’re interested. Mum is a scientist and I love my field, it’s easy to pass that on.

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel September 5, 2014 at 3:53 pm #

      @Alyson, Kids’ attitude is so very important. Maybe that is the most important thing a parent can help their kid develop? A good attitude toward learning? If learning is fun and exciting and interesting, who woudln’t want to do it?

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