By Debbie Ayala

One question I am frequently asked about Self Directed Education is how children/students will learn to do hard things if they are never pushed or asked to do things which they don’t want to do?  As adults there are many things that need to be done that we don’t particularly want to do and it is important that we learn how to push ourselves, even when the activity is unpleasant.  

The answer is, we learn what we practice.  

We learn to make decisions by making decisions.  

We learn to do hard things by doing hard things

When we are pushed to do hard things by others, the only lesson we learn is how to work hard only when pushed.  When we push ourselves, we learn how to push ourselves.  This seems to be a natural trait that children inherently have or they develop early on, and it is exhibited while they are playing or having fun.

One day while waiting in line to get into Costco, I noticed a young girl, about 3, a little ahead of me in line with her mother. This little girl was happily stepping up onto each barrier and trying so hard to balance. She would take a few steps and fall off and then get back on where she had fallen and try again. She fell off over and over, barrier after barrier.  She would always get back on and keep going.  As they got to the front of the line, she happily skipped into the store with her mom.

It would have been much easier to stand in line, I was certainly glad that I didn’t have to practice a hard skill while I waited, but most children aren’t content with doing what is easy.  They love to challenge themselves, to do things the hard way.  Instead of doing what was easy she chose to work on improving her balance while waiting with her mom. Of course, I’m sure she never thought of that, she was just having fun. 

At AVA we see this tendency, to do things the hard way, almost daily.  Not too long ago, I saw a group of teenagers doing something called the floor/ground is lava. It’s pretty self explanatory,  the goal is to get from one destination to another without touching the floor/ground (because it is all lava and if you do, you will die).  Participants climb on fences, balance across obstacles, jump from one object to another. It requires so much strength, determination, hard work, problem solving, collaboration, etc.  

As with the young girl, it would have been so much easier to walk directly to the end destination on the grass or sidewalk, so why would teenagers choose to do this extremely hard activity rather than take the easy path?  For some reason it is incredibly fun to challenge ourselves.  It’s fun to do hard things.  It’s an opportunity to practice the skill of pushing ourselves to our limits mentally or physically. 

Ultimately, the ideal setting for helping children learn this skill is an environment where they are free to explore and play as much as they need. And with this freedom and their desire and love of challenging themselves, our students increase their capacity for hard things every single day.

Published March 22, 2021

1 Comment

Anna · March 23, 2021 at 12:39 am

When Nina was little she would get off the sofa by climbing backwards over the sofa arm or even the back of the sofa. It was so entertaining to see her working so hard. Now, as a teenager, she pushes herself to learn how to do digital animation or build her own computer. I marvel that I, as her mother, have been just an observer in all of these situations. It is still so entertains to see her working so hard!

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