During our yearly trip to the Omaha Zoo, I stood captivated at the rain forest floor exhibit. The typically sedentary pygmy hippo was walking along the river bed and as we watched, an adjective came to mind I do not normally associate with the hippopotamus: graceful. It literally danced along the rocks at the bottom of his tank, as light footed as a ballerina. Smooth, fluid and beautiful, it was in its element, doing what it was created to do.
The characteristics which make the hippo perfectly adapted to its underwater home have made it awkward and slow on land. Prior to my first encounter with the pygmy hippo at the zoo, however, I had only seen hippos lazily floating at the surface or lumbering on shore. Since only their weaknesses were visible to me, I have always characterized them by these same weaknesses.
Since I tend to view my children’s weaknesses as that which will hold them back in life, I tend to focus on them. I look at my daughter’s school work and know she is weak in spelling and strong in math. I could simply say, “Well, you just are not that good at spelling so we don’t need to waste more time on it. Spell check will help.” But I do not think we should back away from challenges so easily. She can learn to spell, it may just be more difficult for her than it was for me. I could also overwhelm her with practice, taking time from the studies she enjoys to make sure that she meets some sort of arbitrary standard. And I think I am guilty of that a little. At least at times. I do not want her to have weaknesses.
But that is because I focus on them too much. She is weak in spelling, Why? Given the fact that she still flips her letters around, I am beginning to suspect the possibility of a learning disability, but there is more to it than that. She has a strong bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. She excels in karate, loves art, science, math…essentially everything in which she is doing something. She has strengths which help her to excel in many things.
To support her education, I need to more effectively recognize the relationship between her strengths and weaknesses. I also need to give her full opportunity to explore her strengths and challenge herself. As she tests her own limits and learns more about herself and how she thinks and learns, she may begin to be able to use her strengths to overcome some of her weaknesses. Some things she will glide through, but with practice she will also be able to move serviceably through those things which are more challenging. And she will have the grace of a hippo.
Other posts in this series:
Photo credits: The video is not by me, but it is of the pygmy hippo at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha. The photo is from the Smithsonian National Zoological Park.