It began as a conversation through the tunnel – something they have enjoyed often in the past. In fact, this first picture was taken last year when they were all a little smaller and ‘fit’ on the bridge;
Now they are taller so they hang further off the edge and sometimes even rest their hands or heads on the gravel below. Then one day a few weeks ago the four-year-old held onto the underside of the bridge and then brought his legs up and over until he flipped over off the bridge. It was like a slow motion summersault except he never let go of the bridge and he landed on his feet. The entire movement was controlled and precise. I was impressed and judging by the response from the other children, they were too.
The five-year-old announced that it had been the ‘most amazing motabular’ that she had ever seen. The name stuck and for weeks since then ‘doing motabulars’ has been a popular activity for these preschoolers. None of the other children have been able to master holding the bridge while completing the flip like this;
Some have modified the feat to fit their own comfort level – taking acceptable risk – understanding their physical abilities. They rest their hands on the ground and then roll forward and bring their legs off the bridge and into the gravel.
One day the four-year-old announced his satisfaction with the ‘motacular’ that he had just done. The others stopped what they were doing and asked “What is a motacular?” He replied that it was “A spectacular motabular”. Love it!
The girl had successfully completed several motabulars but much preferred the role of ‘judge’ – rating the completion of each motabular. This annoyed the oldest child in the group – the only one who had never yet been able to complete the ‘flip’ part. Sometimes he would roll sideways off the bridge and down the slope of the hill. Other times he would walk forward on his hands and then pull his knees up and drop down to the gravel without ever turning over.
Each time he received an ‘Almost’ or ‘Not quite’ rating from the judge. “Put your hands closer to the hill” the others said “You can’t flip when you are that far away” They were trying to be helpful but it just aggravated the situation. “Motabulars are STUPID! He shouted as he stomped away. He refused to try again.
Every time the others practiced their motabulars he would sit and pout – muttering about how dumb that activity was. Sometimes he’d try to start a game of tag or a building project – anything to get the others to stop doing motabulars. But they didn’t stop.
One day ‘the judge’ was absent. As soon as we went outside the younger two boys started doing motabulars. The older one stood close by and watched. After the others had several turns he made his first attempt of the day. He adjusted his stance a few times before crawling down without rolling. He tried to create some different poses and movements to entice the others to do something different. He tried again to do a motabular;
This time he attempted a roll but went sideways instead of over. He was visibly frustrated. He criticized his own roll, talking out loud to himself, trying to make sense of what he was doing wrong. No one else said anything – no one made any type of judgement – and he went back to try again. He was persistent. After another failed attempt he spent some time again watching the others very closely;
Asking for and getting advice and assistance when he wanted it;
Then it happened;
He rejoiced – strutting around the yard singing a new song. “Motabulars are awesome. Motabulars are great. I can do motabulars!” He continued to do more and more of them for the rest of the day.
Interestingly he hasn’t done one since the judge came back. In fact, he hasn’t tried to do one when she is near. He has made a few attempts when she is busy elsewhere but he is obviously concerned that she may notice. He quietly talks to himself, analyzing the situation, fully aware of where she is and what she is doing. Not trying in case she notices when he fails.
That is the power of grades and rewards. They destroy the intrinsic motivation and the perseverance. They put the emphasis on someone else’s evaluation of the outcome intead of the effort it takes to try and fail and try again. Even when the reward is meant to be an encouragement it is ultimately still a judgement.