Doing hard things is good for you, isn’t it?
“Does anyone here think hard work is good for you?”
We expect a neutral response. Instead, a hundred and fifty hands eagerly shoot up into the air. We had planned to try and persuade the juniors and infants about the benefits of hard work. But our arguments don’t even get voiced; the children are already animatedly discussing their favourite challenges and achievements and how they love getting their heads down and stuck into something hard. It’s tricky to get on with our motivational speech when everyone is so motivated. Even the reception class is chatting away about the point of persevering with their reading.
The talk turns out to be hard work
I put my finger to my lips and ssshh them. Then we try shouting over the noise. But things only get worse when the school cook turns the blender on in the kitchen next to the assembly hall. This speaking engagement is turning out to be quite hard work- and it seems we are the only people in the room to be daunted by the difficult stuff. But when the going gets tough…
We raise our voices further and push on with the talk, asking why hard things are good for you. And the kids tell us how working hard makes you brainier, gives you confidence and stretches you physically. That’s exactly what we were going to say! They say they like doing harder and harder things. They enjoy learning instruments and languages and sums. They like a challenge.
So we tell them about ours. About what it’s like to cycle thousands of miles as a family. We tell them about the journeys we’ve done and how by now we’ve cycled about 10,000 miles in total. We explain that’s the equivalent of cycling halfway round the world or to Kendal and back every day for two years with weekends off. Far from being put off, they look as though they all want to come.
We tell them about our trips around Europe, about touring the length of New Zealand, about riding from Lands End to John O Groats one soggy summer. One of them tells us her Dad’s doing the same ride this summer; and she’s supporting him. We talk to them about how doing hard things is easier if you have the support of friends and family, to gee you along. We advise them to ask for help when they need it. But, of course, they know that already.
But we know all this..
But then we all know it don’t we? We know that we get more out of life if we set ourselves challenges. And that doing a challenge with others forms close bonds and relationships. And that supporting each other means we can do more, take on more, and achieve more. We also all appreciate that using our minds and bodies is good for us. We are aware that our brains need stimulation and our muscles need stretching. That new experiences bring learning and growth. That character is shaped beyond the comfort zone. We all know it, yet we don’t always do it.
The buzz of voices in the school hall increases even more when we ask the children what motivates them. We tell them how we motivate ourselves and our kids on our big journeys; establishing goals, setting up treats to look forward to and regular little rewards to help keep us going. We talk about our favourite four M’s of Motivation and ask them to guess what they are. They’re quick to suggest money and melons. And while they’re right about the first, we have to confess the other three, Mints, MP3’s and MacDonalds are not so healthy.
Pilgrims.. now they had it hard..
We show the pupils slides of our cycle pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella. And we tell them the story of how thousands of pilgrims travel hundreds, even thousands of miles on foot acrossEurope each year, some in hope of the ultimate reward; a ticket to heaven. But only if they finish the trip. And not if they go on a coach or train. No pain, no gain. Then we confess that at the end of many a long, hot, tiring 1000 mile trip we’ve been known to reward our kids with a measly lollipop. A lollipop? For all that hard work? “You’ve got to be kidding!” They know full well that’s just not on. But also know the real reward is not something small and sweet that lasts 5 minutes but things that last for ever; the sense of achievement, learning, relationships, shared memories and spirit of adventure. Things that last for ever.
We end our talk by asking them to find a little challenge over the summer to do with their families. Or to find something a little bit hard to do at school today. Then we return to our old house stuffed full of tough challenges like wallpapering, plastering, and sanding down wooden boards. “What shall we do today? Just take it easy?” I grin. Stuart isn’t answering, he’s busy trying to find his swimming trunks.