When the race itself is fun

Yesterday morning, I saw three kids racing each other to see who could get to their elementary school first. Big grins, arms flailing, backpacks bouncing up and down—I’m sure the race injected some extra excitement, but none of these kids appeared to be dreading arriving to school. And the second and third place finishers seemed to shrug it off immediately and bound right inside along with the winner. The race itself was the fun part.

I wonder at what point they’ll stop bounding into school and start running a different race?

Who gets into the AP class, who sets the curve, who gets picked for the lead or the editor or the starting position, who gets the best test scores, who gets into an Ivy League school, etc. That race isn’t nearly as fun. And at many schools, the kids who don’t finish first feel like they’ve let themselves and their families down.

None of us gets to enjoy the carefree days of childhood forever. And I’ve never had a problem with high school kids experiencing work, responsibility, and even the occasional stress that comes along with it. We’re preparing them for life, after all.

But I’d like to believe there’s a way for even high school kids to enjoy school, learning, activities, and preparing for college in such a way that they enjoy just running the race. Praising effort over achievement, focusing on strengths instead of fixing weaknesses, and reminding kids that what they do while they’re in college will matter much more than whether or not that college is a prestigious one—those messages encourage kids to enjoy the race itself and to keep running.

And those are the kids who will actually perform better when the academic, work, or other stress-related chips are down.

Kids are more likely to keep racing if the adults in their lives make the race itself the fun part.