Thursday, March 24, 2005

Penguins, Cars and Asynchrony

Chester's Pinewood Derby is Monday night. Last year, one of the Tiger Cubs (first graders) brought in a Model A Ford to the Derby which won the design competition hands-down. But apparently some people complained that his dad had really done all the work which gave him an unfair advantage over the scouts who made their own cars. So this year, our Cub Scout pack laid down a rule that parents can do the cutting and use the power tools but the boys have to do all the sanding, painting, finishing, etc.

Penguin-lover that Chester is, he wants to make a penguin Derby car. We've been discussing the physics of penguins-turned-downhill-racers and drew (badly) several designs. Now Chester and Dad have finished the woodworking part and I've been appointed to show him how to mask the parts we don't want to paint and to supervise the painting process.

It's so very hard not to do this for him. The gifted experts talk about asynchrony--the famous example is of five-year-old hands trying to keep up with an eight-year-old mind. I know the frustration of trying to create something and having it fall far short of what I imagined--the watercolors muddy, the subtle line of highlight becomes a big white blob, the sculpted head looks leperous--I have the same problem even now. But my instinct is to try to help the boys avoid the self-disappointment that this asynchrony provides. My hand, while not particularly talented, is steadier than his. Why not "help" him achieve his goal?

I've noticed that my boys know if they ask for help on a big project, I'll usually end up doing it for them. Chester needed to clean out his fish tank the other day. I told him to make some more clean, treated water while I brought the tank into the bathroom and found a bowl to put his fish in. Even after I'd made it to the bathroom with the fish-transfer supplies, he was still standing there, waiting patiently with an empty water jug in his hand. Next thing I knew, I had taken his jug and started filling it up in the tub. Luckily, I realized what I was doing before the jug filled and I left him in charge of making the fish water. Yes, I still did most of the tank cleaning--it was a more thorough cleaning than we'd done in a long time--but I was careful to let him help by doing more than fetch and carry.

My hope for today is to let him do most of the penguin-car painting himself, too.

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