My daughter loves to twirl and jump in her best approximation of how she thinks a ballet dancer moves. Her audience is always appreciative, or at least gives indications of this being the case, and she now regularly refers to her future career as a ballet dancer.
Yet when I ask her if she would like to learn how to "ballet" as she calls it, the word dance not encapsulating, in her view, the full spectrum of what a ballet dancer might actually do, she looks at me affronted. "Mummy," she says, her voice tinged with disapproval, "I already know how to ballet. I don’t need lessons." And it’s hard to disagree with such certainty, although I worry. Should I tell her that sometimes her moves remind me of the death throes of a wounded animal?
Alas, I suspect that until she acknowledges for herself that perhaps there might be one or two things she could learn, she will not listen to me -- why start now, in fact? But not all hope is lost, as recently she started asking me about learning piano, and is keen to start lessons after the summer holidays. Months of listening to me teach other children has obviously whetted her appetite – it’s hard to believe this is the same child who six months ago wanted to show me how to play: “Don’t be silly, Mummy, you do it like this!”
When it comes to learning a new skill, we can’t progress until we first acknowledge that there is something to be learnt and recognise that we do want to learn it. Children are often inspired by nothing more than seeing other kids doing something that looks like fun. But, as adults, we weigh the pros and cons, balancing the time and resources required against the possible enjoyment and, crucially, the hoped for end result.
We each have our own preferred learning style. Some of us jump straight in, itching to get our hands dirty. Some like to wallow in the theory and the what-ifs, preferring the thinking to the doing. For others, the fear that a new skill will remain forever elusive is enough to prevent them from starting something new. We pride ourselves on being capable and professional, so starting from square one can be disconcerting. Make a mistake and we cringe, often becoming increasingly fearful of the next mistake and the one after that. And then there are those for whom the greatest enjoyment comes from the process. While speaking perfect German or being able to play a Mozart sonata would be wonderful, it’s the lessons, the interaction with a class or a teacher and the sense of discovery that are the greatest sources of enjoyment.