the duomo

Ooh, the comments on my last post have been interesting–have you seen?

So much talk about child-led learning, and parental support, and the many possible ratios of the two.

That last post was about me trying to let go and let Mr. T lead; this time I’m switching angles and writing about a time when I didn’t let go.

A couple of years ago, before our family took an amazing trip to Italy, H made this model of Florence’s Duomo.

il duomo

The model was his idea. He was reading Brunelleschi’s Dome, by Ross King and was fascinated with the dome, couldn’t believe how big it looked in Florence, when viewed from above on Google Earth. H’s dome might not look that impressive on first glance–it’s just a foamcore model. More impressive was the fact that he made it on his own–with no instructions, no blueprints, no measurements to work from. He looked online for architectural plans, and found some drawings of the dome, but nothing with measurements. So he made his own scale plans by measuring photos on the internet.

This might be a workable concept if making a traditional building, with traditional right angles. But look at the terracotta sections of the dome and try to envision how they’re shaped. Then envision how you would cut the pieces from foamcore to make them come together into a dome.

il duomo

Now, spatial-visual skills are one of H’s strengths–you may have heard me talk of the dizzying Lego diagrams he could follow at five. He was sure he could work this out, and he tried. He cut piece after piece out of foam core for the dome section and tried again and again to fit them together. Eventually he got so tired of cutting them that he was hacking them from the foamcore, with an X-acto knife. Then finally, one day when he was so close to getting the thing to work, he had enough. He picked up his duomo-in-progress, hurled it across the living room where it smashed against a cabinet, and said he never wanted to see it again.

Well. Any parent who ostensibly follows their child’s lead with his learning would take this as a not-so-subtle signal to move on. But no-o-o. Not me. I just couldn’t let go of the project. H had put so many hours of research and effort into his model, and he’d come so close to making it work–I couldn’t let him throw it all away.

So Chris* and I appraised the smashed model. We could see that H’s last version of the domed roof had actually come close to fitting–it was just that the hacked edges weren’t lining up. So Chris used H’s pieces as a template, and recut the pieces as only an un-frustrated person can.

Then I begged and cajoled H to try one more time. He said no! I begged more. Eventually he caved. He made the dome pieces fit, and finished the model, up to the brass cross at the tip.

I’m so glad I pestered him. Look:

room with a viewduomo out my window

That was the view from our hotel room in Florence. It was directly across the street from the Santa Maria dei Fiori Cathedral and Il Duomo. The old, eight-feet high wooden windows were worth the price of the room. We never tired of the dome’s ringing bells, or looking out the windows at that ancient terracotta roof, at the crowds in front of the cathedral. Each morning I drank my cappuccino at the window, watching people ride their bikes across the square to work–my favorites were the nuns, and the women riding upright in their stylish skirts and scarves, looking like extras from Roman Holiday.

those fashionable florentines

But I think no one loved that view more than H. He owned that dome. He had conquered it. It was his.

Which brings me back to the little dance in which sometimes my kids lead, and sometimes I lead. I try to let them take control, but sometimes, I think, they can use a little push. A little insistence even. They need someone to say, I think you should try to do this and here’s why. H needed me to hear me say, I know you don’t want to work on that Duomo any more, but I’d really like you to make another attempt at it.

I try not to do it too often, or my words lose their power. I do a lot of biting my tongue.

But here’s what I’ve discovered: if you make an effort to listen to your kids and follow their leads most of the time, they may, on occasion, listen to you.


* Chris has decided the he doesn’t want to be referred to as My Charming Husband. Too much pressure, I guess. He suggested Cristiano, his commenting pseudonym, which was actually the name of our concierge at this particular hotel in Florence. But I don’t know–referring to him as Cristiano makes me feel like I’m married to an Italian concierge. So I’m going back to using his regular ol’ name; hopefully if some business acquaintance googles his name, Chris won’t be embarrassed by his shenanigans on the Wonder Farm.

6 comments… add one
  • Kristin Feb 27, 2009 @ 9:25

    I really like how you took us from the duomo model in your home to the real thing and then added:

    “But I think no one loved that view more than H. He owned that dome. He had conquered it. It was his.”

    I believe that is true.

    I wonder how you knew to “pick this battle” and persist that he finish it. Was it intuition?

    Anyway, I think it was a wise choice because if he hadn’t completed it, every time he looked at that duomo from your hotel room, he might have been reminded of his failure; instead he had the chance to exalt in his accomplishment.

  • susan Feb 27, 2009 @ 13:50

    I love the dancing metaphor. It evokes something so cooperative and beautiful. I’m sure you could extend it to various kinds of dancing…square dancing, the mazurka, the macarena, Our homeschooling is just that kind of beautiful dance except when it feels more like navigating a water cave without oxygen or headlamps while tied to three other people who have their own very strong opinions of which way to go.

  • patricia Feb 27, 2009 @ 19:33

    Kristin: I’m not sure if my response was intuition or sheer stubbornness.

    There’s a difference though, between when kids want to give up on a project because they’re frustrated, and when they want to give up because they’re simply ready to move on. If they’re frustrated, they might just need some help to get over the hump (or the dome, as the case may be.) I sensed that H really wanted to finish the project, but it had just gotten too frustrating. Having Chris re-cut the pieces for him made all the difference.

    On the other hand, sometimes they’ve taken on a project which they’ve simply lost interest in. In that case, I might still try to offer some help, before they abandon the project altogether. Lulu, for example, was losing motivation with her India dollhouse, so today I offered to help her–and she set me to work making replacements for the Fimo cookware I burned last week! She got a fair amount accomplished, and I think she’s more motivated.

    But if they’re really ready to move on, I think I need to respect that–and I try to. We’ve all taken on projects that we decide not to finish. That’s okay. I want them to be excited about what they’re doing.

    Susan: I like the dance metaphor too–and all your dance suggestions. It’s a metaphor that applies so often in parenting. I wrote an essay about traveling with the kids in Spain, a trip which had its ups and downs. That time I referred to the dance of traveling with kids as “your own little flamenco–complete with cries and foot stomps.” Here’s hoping all of our homeschooling has more dancing, and less water cave diving!

  • Helen Mar 3, 2009 @ 15:55

    many good points you make here. it is such a fine line on which way to go — I struggle with this often. Thanks for sharing!

  • patricia Mar 3, 2009 @ 18:51

    Thanks for stopping by, Helen. And thank your for your wonderful new blog! I love it! The combination of beautiful photos and thought-provoking insights into learning is just lovely.

    I’m looking forward to following it–and mentioning it when I write my monthly “atwitter” post…

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