Yahtzee and the ZPD... and a happy H. update

When you do enough reading in early childhood education, child development, and play theory, there are certain names that you start to see over and over again. Lev Vygotsky is one of those names. He is the educational theorist who developed the idea of the Zone of Proximal Development, or ZPD. Essentially what this means is that all of us, and children in particular, have things we can do on our own, things we can do with help, and things we cannot do. The Zone of Proximal Development are the things a person can do with outside help, or mediation. In terms of child development and education, this means that the teacher (or parent or facilitator) is noticing what the child can do with help, and then providing that help until the child can do it on his own. As you can imagine, the ZPD for anyone is constantly moving and changing as the child develop new skills and abilities.

I'm in the middle of a fantastic book about children and executive function (I'll blog about it when I'm done), and there has been a lot of discussion about development and ZPD, so it was fresh in my mind the other day when I agreed to sit down and play Yahtzee with K., Y., H., and L. Boy, talk about a game that is smack dab in the middle of each of those children's ZPD's. Skip counting and by extension multiplying, graph completion, holding multiple numbers in ones head as you write them down, translating English words into numerals, heck, just remembering how to write numerals, are all things this particular crew is working on at the moment and I don't think I could have designed a game that hit so many skills all at the same time. Plus, they are all really enjoying playing it, so it doesn't seem like a school activity to them. It's a win all the way around.

As I thought about it more, though, I have become more and more astounded that H. can play it. And she does, with very little help. If you are new to our family and with H.'s journey in particular, you might find it interesting to go back and read a few posts to catch-up, in order to fully appreciate what I'm going to share.

H. has been home 6 months
Another update on H.
Learning there is comfort
Loving and fixing
One year ago
My science experiment report

I can't quite believe I was writing about the same child then, who is currently sitting behind me doing one of those dot-to-dot puzzles which have hundreds of dots in them. And doing it accurately, I might add. This same child who could not identify numbers or had any idea what a number stood for four years ago, and just two years ago couldn't remember how to write and identify numbers past '6'.

I can't believe that this is the same child who was just telling me all the different ways she can jump on the trampoline, the child who runs without trouble or effort, the child who has complete and total control over her body.

I can't believe that this is the same child who would disassociate at the drop of a hat, the second anything seemed stressful, and by anything I mean everything. She spent a good chunk of her first year here, not really here at all. Now, she is present, does not hesitate to share her current emotional state, tries things that may be hard, is aware of the people around her and what they are doing, and joins in without being prodded. I remember telling J. a few years ago that I will be thrilled if the day ever comes if when at the dinner table H. was aware of the conversation and joined in of her own volition. Well, somewhere along that line that happened and I didn't even notice.

We are particularly struck with how far H. has come since bringing R. home. The contrast is stunning. And it happened so slowly that we weren't even totally aware of the magnitude of change. Even the smallest members of the family have commented on it. It's truly as if H. has jumped ahead by years in every area of development in the past year. She has reached a level of achievement that in my worst moments four years ago, I couldn't even imagine her reaching.

H. also 'gets' R. as no one else does. She is so incredibly helpful and patient with her and has truly become my right hand where R. is concerned. H. watches what things I am working with R. on, and I will come across her later on encouraging her to do the same things.

And the best yet? I am absolutely over-the-moon in love with this daughter of mine, just as with the others. There were also days... years... where I wondered if I would have to fake it for a lifetime. But truly the best gift in all of this is the deep feeling I have for her.

I wanted to encourage R. in making big pictures. I asked H. to sit with us and draw a big picture of her own. Here is what she drew.

These are trees in fall, and on the ground are leaves and a little dog. Completely original and made up from her own mind.

I wish I had more of her early artwork to compare it to. Essentially the early stuff all looked like an early toddler's drawing. This picture makes me so happy.

Realizing that I am missing the 'before', I am going to share some of R.'s work, which she worked on at the same time. As you might have guessed from the rather vague radio silence, life with R. is currently challenging. If I am honest, I would assess much of her current abilities at an 18-month old level. Big change often causes regression in a child, and I'm afraid that for poor R., regression came with a vengeance. We are hopeful (usually) that by meeting her where she is emotionally and cognitively, that we can encourage growth and development.

So for comparison's sake a few years from now, here is her first drawing from the afternoon.

She told me it was a dog. I decided that we needed to back up a step or two (something I find myself doing in just about every area with her these days.) We worked on drawing circles instead.

Here is her first attempt on her own.

So we did some drawing together. After a while, she drew these on her own.

After a while, though, we were back to the non-circles again. If I learned anything from H., it is that the same things need to be repeated over and over until they are firmly lodged in the brain. So that's what we will do. In short spurts... for both our sanity.

Whenever I feel discouraged about R., it does help to spend some time with H. and remember how far she has come. It gives me hope.

And my last little bit of really good news? Well, first go back and read that science experiment post I linked to up above if you haven't already. When I was going through old posts to share here, I saw that one and on a whim decided to see if the gap in H.'s understanding of conservation was still there. We got out the glasses, we poured, we talked, we measured, and then I held my breath and asked the question, "Does this have more?" She pauses, looks at me for a moment with a look that says, "I'm wondering if my mother has lost her mind," and says, "No, it's the same amount of water."

Soli Deo Gloria


Rebecca said…
Hooray! Such an exciting post. Good work, H (and Mama)!
Jayview said…
I love the way you see the world from each child's point of view, understand their challenges and notice their achievements. And work at loving them. Not trying to idealise - I know you are human- but it sounds to me very much 'good enough' parenting and teaching (great concept of Winnicott's isn't it?)
Mary said…
What a wonderful post. Having had very similar experiences with one of our adopted daughters, I can relate! When our now almost 15 year old daughter came home to us she couldn't roll over, and she was 9 months old. When we officially started school with her, I wasn't sure she would ever learn to read. Today, she is a bookworm and makes As in Algebra, sometimes. She has come so far!

Carla said…
Thanks for the update! Love to hear the good and the tiresome of the process.

Oh, and thanks for the reminder to log where we are right now. I'll want to know in the future.

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