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    mastery vs perfection

    I really need help unravelling this idea of mastery rather than perfection, especially how to explain it a six year old who already has perfectionism issues (for stuff she cares about) that cause literal emotional explosions (it's so exhausting). This is the same six year old I wrote about a few weeks ago who hates Kindergarten.

    My six year old loves to sew. She does this completely independently. I taught her, and for a while still had to thread her needle and knot the thread, and then just knot it, and now she's off and running. She's making simple, sweet little angels with stuffed and sewn wings to give her grandmothers for Christmas. Her idea, her design, her execution. All I have done is admire (and we work hard to give specific praise for work and effort and not results...we rarely say "good job!"). But, if she is sewing (or drawing, or painting) something and it isn't coming out EXACTLY like the picture in her head, she absolutely loses it. Throws down her work, screams, cries, throws a legitimate temper tantrum. If she gets one flashcard wrong in a stack she insists on doing the entire stack again till she gets them all right (if they are new flashcards). So, obviously some perfectionist issues that we hope don't end her up with the anorexia and anxiety that my perfectionist issues did.

    Interestingly, she often complains that things are boring. Phonics. Math. Gymnastics. "It's not challenging. We do nothing new," she said after gymnastics today. I had a sudden flash of insight. She thinks that new=challenging. The idea of mastery, of doing it again and again and again until it's perfect, is not something she gets. She detests review. "I already know all this." And sure, she can remember after a few seconds that 3 + 2 = 5, but she doesn't KNOW it.

    So how do I help her understand mastery, and the point of it all, without tipping her into the perfectionist side of things?

    DD1: Third grade: reading, spelling, piano, and art along with MP Mammals, Lit Guides, LC yr 1, and R&S 3 so we are ready for 4NU next year
    DD2: MP Kindergarten
    DS 1: MP Preschool package
    Me: Autoimmune Protocol athlete who loves chai tea with coconut milk, a good book, and the mountains

    #2
    This is all further befuddled in my mind by the fact that perfection does matter. A 10 in gymnastics is different than a 9.7. A 100% on a test is different than a 93% on a test. When I do, say, a stack of Latin flashcards with my third grader, and she gets them all correct, I do say things like, "You did! You got them all right! You've worked hard to learn those!"

    I have an inkling that mastery will be particularly important for this six year old gifted child of mine...but again, I am a loss for how to convince her of the necessity of review (especially since she thinks she knows it all once she's been instructed once on the material) and the beauty of a perfectly executed copywork page, drill sheet, or cartwheel without her going off the deep end about it all.
    DD1: Third grade: reading, spelling, piano, and art along with MP Mammals, Lit Guides, LC yr 1, and R&S 3 so we are ready for 4NU next year
    DD2: MP Kindergarten
    DS 1: MP Preschool package
    Me: Autoimmune Protocol athlete who loves chai tea with coconut milk, a good book, and the mountains

    Comment


      #3
      We never addressed the perfection issue head on. We addressed the behavior. Temper tantrums were never okay, and when things begin to escalate, we had pre-established a routine of "pause". Everything stopped and dd put her head down. Then we would begin again. As time went on, we worked on a mantra of progress-over-perfection. It helped that dd was in a sport for 5 years that she was pretty middle of the road skill-wise (swimming).
      Bean. Long time MP user.

      DD- 9th grade aerospace enthusiast. Using a mix of dual credit, online and classical materials for 2019-2020.

      Comment


        #4
        I definitely need to find a "pause" before she escalates to high speed meltdown. I catch it too late and then she seems it as a punishment rather than a coping mechanism I am trying to help her develop! I like that "progress over perfection." Thanks bean
        DD1: Third grade: reading, spelling, piano, and art along with MP Mammals, Lit Guides, LC yr 1, and R&S 3 so we are ready for 4NU next year
        DD2: MP Kindergarten
        DS 1: MP Preschool package
        Me: Autoimmune Protocol athlete who loves chai tea with coconut milk, a good book, and the mountains

        Comment


          #5
          Couple of things...I have been a perfectionist, but as I have aged I have come to see that perfection is often not attainable and very often not appreciated. We are not perfect people. The difference between the 93% and the 100% is usually not worth the extra effort needed to be sure to get the higher grade...no one cares especially years later. Who remembers their GPA from high school? I know I learned the material, but I don’t remember my GPA and I especially don’t remember how high my A was in an individual class. I am sure that if I were in charge of sending a rocket to the moon then I would triple check my answers, but companies know that people aren’t willing to pay what it would cost for your appliances to last 40 years. Maturing requires learning when the effort is worth it. For me, mastery really does not equal perfection. There is always an improvement/change you could make to your copybook, extra decoration you could add to the cake, better hair on the doll you made. As for gymnastics, as a spectator I am as impressed by a 9.7 performance as by a 10. A specialized judge can tell a difference, I guess, but so much of that sort of thing is a subjective assessment. Kids are mentally and physically injured by that quest to meet someone else’s view of physical perfection. People are injured by stress and anxiety and I think we owe it to our kids to help them find balance in their lives. Swimming is a bit different as there are only four strokes, but maybe you can help her see that repetition in physical pursuits help her body gain endurance and her coaches are responsible to make sure that her technique is correct so that she doesn’t injure herself.

          As for math, I too have a six year old who is always asking for harder math. He doesn’t yet have all his facts mastered, but strongly craves challenges. I have found that math games provide him some of the variety he seeks while giving the facts time to sink in. As a family, we have used Right Start since before we came to Memoria Press. It is teacher intensive, but I love it and my kids do too. Games provide variability, fun, and problem solving skills that flash cards can never hope to duplicate while still developing math fact competency. We do math fact practice sheets, but they are short and not timed. Sort of like the comments on perfectionism, speed is important in assessment of math fact mastery, but balance is important. The speed and stamina needed for a young child to execute one of those speed drills in the allowed time is not worth it to me when I can see that they are putting their facts to work in a game. Games have also allowed my children to work at their level without demanding the fine motor skills of an older child.

          Dorinda

          For 2019-2020
          DD 16 - 11th with MPOA(AP Latin), Lukeion (Greek4 & Adv. NT Greek), Thinkwell (Economics and Chemistry), plus Pre-Calculus, American G’ment, Early Church History set, and British Lit
          DS 14 - 8th with MPOA(Fourth Form), CLRC(Intro Lit and Comp), plus Algebra, Field Biology, Classical Studies 1
          DS 11 - 6th with Right Start Level G online class
          DS 6 - 1st with Prima Latina

          Comment


            #6
            Dorinda, I really like your take on this, and Bean, the "progress over perfection" mantra seems good to just remind all kids and ourselves. I don't see perfectionism in my kids who are doing schoolwork, but I did and still do sometimes struggle with it myself. It is not something I see as a positive thing, although it has allowed me to excel in certain areas. I think it holds us back and feeds our pride, and I admire you for addressing it already with your six-year-old child. To me, it would be worth sacrificing "mastery" just to have that more balanced view of things.

            This is sort of a related question I've been wondering about, but Fireweed Prep's question reminded me of it now. We talk about mastery a lot in MP. Are there certain subjects that naturally lend themselves to being mastered, like grammar, math, and geography? I find it odd to use the word mastery when discussing literature. What does that mean to master a book? And whose criteria are using? How do we know when we are being too demanding of perfection when seeking mastery? I don't want my kids to think learning is only about mastering things. It seems like then they will either obsess over the mastery or become apathetic. Obviously, we don't want either!
            2019-20
            DS--9, 3M/4M
            DD--7, mix of 1 and 2
            DD--5, MP K
            DS--3
            DS--1

            Comment


              #7
              Originally posted by Fireweed Prep View Post
              I definitely need to find a "pause" before she escalates to high speed meltdown. I catch it too late and then she seems it as a punishment rather than a coping mechanism I am trying to help her develop! I like that "progress over perfection." Thanks bean
              We established what "pause" was and meant during a quiet time. And yes, to her it felt a bit like punishment at first. That's okay. It was still done calmly and firmly and helped her change her perception of what is acceptable. As time went on, it became clear that parts of the drama with the perfectionism AND the complaining about boredom were often connected to the skill where she needed the most work.

              Sometimes it's a power play. Trust me, 6 year olds can work a power play. Even with things like flashcards, if she misses one and wants to go back through the pile repeatedly, give her an alternative that doesn't require your full attention. She can write the fact on the white board 5 times, or make up a memory device on her own to remember the tricky fact. Or set aside time later to play a math game. We also did a lot of math games and living math books at that age.
              Bean. Long time MP user.

              DD- 9th grade aerospace enthusiast. Using a mix of dual credit, online and classical materials for 2019-2020.

              Comment


                #8
                Fireweed Prep ,

                I think perfectionism is like any other character trait. If a person learns to live with their perfectionism in a healthy way, it can be a virtue. It can lead to great things. But like any virtue, it has to be kept in balance. Lean too far one way and you have apathy and carelessness. Lean too far the other way and you have neuroses. Neither of these are good options. But just as we teach our children about being physically healthy without idolizing health, or about being compassionate without being an enabler, there is much we can do to turn perfectionism into a good trait. This will be an ongoing lesson throughout your daughter's life because her tendency toward it is so strong. The fact you are aware of it at 6 means that you have a lot of time to help her grow into a good understanding with it. But I don't have a simple solution for you that will help immediately. It just takes time.

                The two things I do want to address from what you brought up are the behavior side of things, and the need to persist with something that is not challenging anymore. bean already brought up a great strategy that she uses with her daughter. The one that I find most effective for our child who has the highest degree of difficulty with this is actually to pull her in for a very tight hug. We just stop everything and let her physical reaction start to calm down. I immediately switch into "gentle-mode," because any sort of impatience, frustration, anger, mom-authority just adds fuel to the fire. Now, this is not how I deal with all of my children. For most of them, the tantrums stopped at about a year and a half because they learned that doesn't fly in our house. But this is different. For profoundly gifted kids, this is not about willfulness, or disrespect, or being a spoiled kid. It is about the incredible degree of emotional intensity they possess and how difficult it can be to help them cope with. What I have found is that it is like peeling off the layers of an onion. The outer ones are rigid and can even cut you if handled wrong. But when you carefully peel those back, each layer gets softer and softer until you reach the beautiful, healthy onion that you want and that you can work with. It takes a lot of patience to see the eruption of the emotions, and have to work at diffusing it layer by layer. But if you do, you can help her calm down and deal with her the situation at hand, one thing at a time. Every time I do it, what initially seemed like a completely irrational reaction turns out to be rooted in something very deep, very personal, and very strong - and not at all irrational. Your daughter is probably too smart to just react. My guess is there is always a reason. Your job is to dig deep into her reaction and find out what the real spark of it was and help her deal with it in a more productive way. The higher up on the bell curve a child is, the higher degree of parenting he or she requires. Never forget that.

                The second thing is the issue of her not finding things challenging, and therefore not thinking they are worthwhile. We went over this a bit in your thread about her hating kindergarten, so some of this may sound familiar. But there are a couple of basics to this. First, a child has to learn humility to be a good student. This is especially true for gifted children. They do actually have to accept that there are hoops they will have to jump through their whole lives simply to get to a place that is actually interesting to them. And that no matter what they are doing, there will always be someone in authority over them who will be telling them what to do. I use our family's chain-of-command to emphasize that we each have an authority over us - topping off with our Father in heaven. No one gets to do whatever they feel like every day. We each have responsibilities that we have to fulfill. Doing what you are told as a student is their job at this point, and it's not their job to constantly question it. She does not need to know all of your decision-making steps, or your reasons for making her do what she needs to do. She just has to learn to accept it and do it humbly and diligently.

                Another part of this is that they do see the big picture of a lesson much faster than other children their age. Gifted children can have such well-developed imaginations that they can actually (even to a physical level) understand an entire experience without ever having done it. They don't feel the need to actually do it because they already "know" what it will be like. (This is also what makes them so frustrated when the reality of what they create does not match up to the image in their minds!) This is a tricky thing, and is one that will take your discernment as a parent and as the teacher as you go along. What things do they really need to stick with and drill versus what things can you check "done" and move on? It will take constant evaluation on your part, but that is a good thing, you know? You have to teach her to complete things rather than just say "I get it" and move on. You have to teach her that it is important to finish, otherwise she runs the risk of being a highly-intelligent person who can't stick with anything and doesn't actually reach her full potential.

                All of this boils down to the fact that you make a plan for the year, and you follow through on that plan. You deal with each emotional issue as it comes along, but otherwise, you teach her to do her job as a student diligently and thoroughly. Give her free time to pursue her own interests and projects, but for school, you are teaching her valuable life lessons that do help her take the gifts she has been given and figure out how to use them in a positive manner.

                AMDG,
                Sarah
                2019-2020 - 9th Year with MP
                DD, 18, Homeschool grad; Art major/philosophy minor
                DS, 16
                DD, 14
                DD, 12
                DD, 10
                DD, 7.5
                DD, 5.5
                +DS+
                DS, 18 months

                Comment


                  #9
                  Know thy child. Hugging would have been a bad idea at my house, lol. But Sarah's ideas and approach are spot on. Melt down is not the time to exert authority. Emotional intensity is no joke.
                  Bean. Long time MP user.

                  DD- 9th grade aerospace enthusiast. Using a mix of dual credit, online and classical materials for 2019-2020.

                  Comment


                    #10
                    Originally posted by bean View Post
                    Know thy child. Hugging would have been a bad idea at my house, lol. But Sarah's ideas and approach are spot on. Melt down is not the time to exert authority. Emotional intensity is no joke.
                    Absolutely! I have been thinking about this and realized it’s not what I do with my sons - different tactic there. Still something physical though - go run, shoot baskets, ride a bike, get outside, etc. Something to do exactly what you said before: to teach them to pause and regroup; to get a handle on their emotions again.

                    Another tip: biographies. Stories of real people who have both put up with a lot and accomplished a lot. Helps them see that this waiting and preparation does lead somewhere eventually.

                    AMDG,
                    Sarah
                    2019-2020 - 9th Year with MP
                    DD, 18, Homeschool grad; Art major/philosophy minor
                    DS, 16
                    DD, 14
                    DD, 12
                    DD, 10
                    DD, 7.5
                    DD, 5.5
                    +DS+
                    DS, 18 months

                    Comment


                      #11
                      Originally posted by Emilylovesbooks View Post
                      Dorinda, I really like your take on this, and Bean, the "progress over perfection" mantra seems good to just remind all kids and ourselves. I don't see perfectionism in my kids who are doing schoolwork, but I did and still do sometimes struggle with it myself. It is not something I see as a positive thing, although it has allowed me to excel in certain areas. I think it holds us back and feeds our pride, and I admire you for addressing it already with your six-year-old child. To me, it would be worth sacrificing "mastery" just to have that more balanced view of things.

                      My post got flagged by the edit-spam-monster so I'm reposting:

                      This is sort of a related question I've been wondering about, but Fireweed Prep's question reminded me of it now. We talk about mastery a lot in MP. Are there certain subjects that naturally lend themselves to being mastered, like grammar, math, and geography? I find it odd to use the word mastery when discussing literature. What does that mean to master a book? And whose criteria are using? How do we know when we are being too demanding of perfection when seeking mastery? I don't want my kids to think learning is only about mastering things. It seems like then they will either obsess over the mastery or become apathetic. Obviously, we don't want either!
                      From what I understand, mastery is for skill/fact-based subjects: grammar, Latin, math, etc. Most moms seem to consider 90% correct as an evidence of mastery for these (on quizzes/tests; daily work is for practice). We used 85%, but that might have been me aiming too low, lol!

                      I don't think anyone in their right mind would say that they have mastered a book or a period of history! The only thing I can think of "mastering" in literature is the skills that are practiced within it: writing a complete sentence, finding answers in a text, writing an essay based on the work. But again, mastery doesn't mean perfection. It means that 9 times out of 10 you do really well.

                      For Classical Studies, you would want to master the names of the Olympian gods and their roles since they show up in so much of the Western canon. You would want to master the most important dates and persons. You can use what is included in the flashcards as your guide for that. They don't necessarily have to remember Sulla 10 years from now (even though he's in the flashcards), but they really need to know Cincinnatus, given his relation to the founding of our own country.

                      Remember that the point of mastery is to know things well so you don't have to agonize over them for the rest of your life. If a child masters math facts, they may hate it at the time but they will breeze through upper math because they're not still making tally marks or counting on their fingers (I've had middle/high schoolers do both because I didn't require fact mastery when they were young — I too worried about them hating school. Instead, I caused them to hate school because it was just. so. hard. They didn't have the foundation that would have made it easier because I was afraid of them hating the work involved. Like the kings of Greek tragedy, I created the very situation I was trying to avoid.)

                      Does this help?
                      Jennifer
                      Blog: [url]www.seekingdelectare.com[/url]

                      DS16
                      MP: Lit 10, VideoText Algebra
                      MPOA: High School Comp. II
                      HSC: Spanish I, Conceptual Physics, Modern European History, and electives

                      DS15
                      MP: Biology, Lit 10, VideoText Algebra, Greek Tragedies
                      MPOA: High School Comp. II, Fourth Form Latin
                      HSC: Modern European History

                      DS12
                      7M with:
                      Second Form Latin, EGR III, and HSC for US History

                      DS11
                      SC Level 4

                      DD9
                      3A, with First Form Latin (long story!)

                      DD7/8
                      Still in SC Level 2

                      DD 4/5
                      SC Level C

                      Comment


                        #12
                        Originally posted by Emilylovesbooks View Post
                        Dorinda, I really like your take on this, and Bean, the "progress over perfection" mantra seems good to just remind all kids and ourselves. I don't see perfectionism in my kids who are doing schoolwork, but I did and still do sometimes struggle with it myself. It is not something I see as a positive thing, although it has allowed me to excel in certain areas. I think it holds us back and feeds our pride, and I admire you for addressing it already with your six-year-old child. To me, it would be worth sacrificing "mastery" just to have that more balanced view of things.

                        This is sort of a related question I've been wondering about, but Fireweed Prep's question reminded me of it now. We talk about mastery a lot in MP. Are there certain subjects that naturally lend themselves to being mastered, like grammar, math, and geography? I find it odd to use the word mastery when discussing literature. What does that mean to master a book? And whose criteria are using? How do we know when we are being too demanding of perfection when seeking mastery? I don't want my kids to think learning is only about mastering things. It seems like then they will either obsess over the mastery or become apathetic. Obviously, we don't want either!
                        As someone who shares that struggle, I think Sarah's point of view is quite helpful: that perfectionism, like any other personality trait, can be tamed and be made into a force for good. As you say, it does help in accomplishing some things... but it can definitely be a barrier in others. I wish it was easier to take it out of our pockets in the right situations, and put it back when it shouldn't be "used"!

                        But perfectionism is not the opposite of mastery, so you don't need to give up the idea of mastery in order to "cure" yourself of perfectionism. Sloppiness is the opposite of mastery, or approximation, or superficiality, or whatever word can describe failing to achieve, for whatever reason, the acquisition of sure knowledge. Even though I am a perfectionist, and I adore cooking, I do consider myself a sloppy cook, because I cannot be bothered with learning some techniques: what I cook tastes very good, but in my home only: I wouldn't make the cut in a restaurant kitchen! I might be happy with my cakes, but they would not be considered the stuff of bakeries: I happily ignore all the merits and demerits of butter at various temperatures, or the proper way to fold egg whites, and a lot more. I get a cake out of my efforts, but I don't kid myself that it's the same cake that Julia Child, a non-professional cook who decided to MASTER cooking, could bake. Unfortunately for our kids, mastery in some school subjects is not as optional as mastery in cooking! Although I think someone did say that if you don't have good sense in the kitchen, you won't have good sense in anything, or something to that effect

                        And Jennifer is right: mastery is for fact-based or skill-based things. When it comes to literature or history, very few people achieve mastery, and then in very narrow sub-fields: I guess that would be when you know something inside and out, and it doesn't have any secrets for you. Even so, there may be people equally competent that hold different views, so it gets tricky. I guess it's possible to do that, but it's definitely not the goal of K-12 schooling, so we don't need to stress about it... yay!!

                        Comment


                          #13
                          As a follow up to Jen’s post...

                          Thought of in its most basic sense, any subject you study is going to have elements of grammar, logic, and rhetoric involved in it. The grammar is what pertains to the structure of your study. Terms, vocab, facts, people, basic procedures, etc. These are what are necessary to know and understand well before being able to do anything else with the area of study. The backbone, you know? Then Logic is going to be those things that you have to think on more - relationships, causes, effects, connections, consequences, etc. You cannot just memorize them. You have to reason your way through them to learn them. Then there is the rhetoric portion - that is, the ability to do something original with what you have learned. Make a pronouncement and back it up. State a proof and be able to prove it. That sort of thing.

                          The things we master are anything Grammar-ish. We use that information to dig deeper and do more with it so that we grow in actual knowledge, not just the information itself.

                          AMDG,
                          Sarah
                          Last edited by KF2000; 09-11-2019, 12:19 PM.
                          2019-2020 - 9th Year with MP
                          DD, 18, Homeschool grad; Art major/philosophy minor
                          DS, 16
                          DD, 14
                          DD, 12
                          DD, 10
                          DD, 7.5
                          DD, 5.5
                          +DS+
                          DS, 18 months

                          Comment


                            #14
                            Originally posted by KF2000 View Post
                            As a follow up to Jen’s post...

                            Thought of in its most basic sense, any subject you study is going to have elements of grammar, logic, and rhetoric involved in it. The grammar is what pertains to the structure of your study. Terms, vocab, facts, people, basic procedures, etc. These are what are necessary to know and understand well before being able to do anything else with the area of study. The backbone, you know? Then Logic is going to be those things that you have to think on more - relationships, causes, effects, connections, consequences, etc. You cannot just memorize them. You have to reason your way through them to learn them. Then there is the rhetoric portion - that is, the ability to do something original with what you have learned. Make a pronouncement and back it up. State a proof and be able to prove it. That sort of thing.

                            The things we master are anything Grammar-ish. We use that information to dig deeper and do more with it so that we grow in actual knowledge, not just the information itself.

                            AMDG,
                            Sarah
                            LOVE this...where are those FB reactions when you need them
                            Jennifer
                            Blog: [url]www.seekingdelectare.com[/url]

                            DS16
                            MP: Lit 10, VideoText Algebra
                            MPOA: High School Comp. II
                            HSC: Spanish I, Conceptual Physics, Modern European History, and electives

                            DS15
                            MP: Biology, Lit 10, VideoText Algebra, Greek Tragedies
                            MPOA: High School Comp. II, Fourth Form Latin
                            HSC: Modern European History

                            DS12
                            7M with:
                            Second Form Latin, EGR III, and HSC for US History

                            DS11
                            SC Level 4

                            DD9
                            3A, with First Form Latin (long story!)

                            DD7/8
                            Still in SC Level 2

                            DD 4/5
                            SC Level C

                            Comment


                              #15
                              Thanks! Yes, that definitely helps. Why don’t we just focus on math facts in the elementary years? Why go over similar things year after year, page after page, before higher-level math? Is it to ensure we don’t forget them? I’m only asking about math—not the memorization of the “grammar” of other subjects.
                              2019-20
                              DS--9, 3M/4M
                              DD--7, mix of 1 and 2
                              DD--5, MP K
                              DS--3
                              DS--1

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