Lower School Blog: First steps matter

It is a fact, ‘universally acknowledged’ that young children love to come first! Today, however, I want to focus on the word ‘first’ in a slightly different, but far more important way. We are privileged in the Lower School to be able to witness the ‘firsts’ of many of our girls, and the pride they have in these achievements is particularly heartening. 

I ask you as parents to consider for a moment the momentous ‘firsts’ that you may have witnessed whilst watching your daughter develop; their first smile, first steps, first words…even if they were unintelligible…you know you heard them say something! Their first tooth, their first day at school, and the first time they rode a bike without stabilisers! These are the ‘grab your camera’ moments that fill you with and pride and joy!

For us, as educators, we are no less fortunate to witness many firsts in the classroom – but these take just a tad more preparation…your child writing their name for the first time, blending sounds to read words, reading full sentences, writing their first story, adding vertically! These are the moments when we do our own personal ‘happy dance’ and celebrate jubilantly with the children.

I have mentioned some of the ‘firsts’ that we actively pursue, but there are many ‘firsts’ that seem to happen organically without any planning, preparation or warning. The reality is that a child’s environment is everything in these situations. Having the courage to stand up on stage and say your lines in the nativity, making a special friend or even just eating something unfamiliar will happen much more easily if she feels safe, secure and surrounded by supportive people who are willing her on to succeed.

Frustratingly, success isn’t always achieved the first time we try and this is when we as educators, and you as parents are most influential in reinforcing and modelling that spirit, ‘Don’t give up!’…‘You can’t do it yet, but keep trying and practising, and you will get there’. Resilience is one of the most important characteristics for success in learning. There may be wrong turns, stumbles and falls along the way, but these experiences are simply there to embed the learning.

Our school philosophy recognises that every child can learn, just not on the same day in the same way. Some children are going to be sprinters, some will be middle distance athletes, and some will be marathon runners, but all will eventually cross the finish line. They may not be first, but every experience, positive or negative, will be a first for them at the beginning of this meaningful educational journey.

One of the essentials for this journey is a significant other. Resilience isn’t cultivated through independent action…a sink or swim approach. It requires us as educators, and you as parents, to champion from the side lines, pass on sustenance when it is needed, but most of all, be a role model. Just ask yourself when last did you do something significant for the first time? When did you last do something that scared you…that challenged you? It is only through empathy and understanding that we can truly find the best path forward to support our youngsters in their endeavours. 

In ‘Little Women’, Louisa May Alcott wrote, ‘I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship!’ For our girls, they need a few storms, because if it was all smooth sailing there wouldn’t be any learning. The best gift you can give your daughter is a love of challenge, an intrigue for mistakes, an encouragement of effort, and the facility to keep on learning. That way, your children won’t be a slave to praise. Instead, they will have a life-long strategy to build their confidence and, when there are storms, in the inimitable words of Frank Sinatra, they will have the ability to ‘pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and start all over again!’