Perseverance...Step by StepSep 05, 2023
When my daughter was 8 years old. We hiked 23 miles in one day. Two years later we did it again.
One of her teachers had created this hike as a fundraiser. Each year she invited her whole class of first and second graders to join the hike with their families. “Great idea!” said my husband. “23 miles?!!” I replied. We are not one of those families you hear about in the news who run marathons in our free time or swim to Alcatraz just for fun. We are just a regular family who enjoys the outdoors. Our daughter and son both liked to swim and play soccer, so they were active but hiking 23 miles in a day seemed like a lot.
After spending the night in Curry Village in Yosemite Valley, we got up in the dark on the appointed morning, gathered our flashlights and our lunches and made our way to the bus which would take us to the start of the trail to the top of El Capitan. Many others gathered with us. Some were going to attempt the whole trail. Some were leaving later and doing a shorter trail. Our kids agreed we would try for the whole trail, if we couldn’t do it, we would turn around and make our way back down.
After many hours of hiking my husband and my son were well ahead of my daughter and myself. They kept texting us directions – “Stay to the right at the big rock.” “Lots of switchbacks ahead.” My daughter grew bored of the monotony of hiking, so we sang songs. We sang every camp song I could think of. Then we played “I Spy” for a while. Then we played the game where you name fruits or cities or whatever that begin with each letter of the alphabet. We made up stories. I kept reminding her of the story of the tortoise and the hare, “slow and steady wins the race.”
All the while we made progress. Our legs hurt and we had to take many snack breaks, but we kept on going and eventually we made it to the top where my husband and my son were waiting for us.
We celebrated for a little bit and sat and took our boots and socks off. Before too long though, it was time to head back down so we would make it down before dark. After hiking 22.5 miles we made it back down. There was a bus stop at the end of the trail, and we planned to get on the bus and take it back to the village where dinner would be waiting. Unfortunately, we missed the last bus of the evening by a few minutes. We would have to walk. Another half mile after a whole day of hiking. My daughter’s eyes filled with tears. She had absolutely nothing left to give and looked at me in despair, but she had no choice. She was too big for me to carry. There was no vehicle to pick us up. Unless she wanted to spend the night right there, we had to walk a little bit more. Finally, we made it to dinner and then eagerly climbed into our beds.
So, what does this have to do with math you ask? Through this adventure our children learned that they could do hard things. Step by step. Little by little, we accomplished this huge task. Our children learned how to persevere, a super valuable life skill. In fact, it is Math Practice #3
Time and again we have returned to this story as my children have encountered other challenges. “Slow and steady wins the race,” I remind them. “Take it a little bit at a time.” “Let’s figure out just one piece of this now.” The skill of being able to break things down into small, manageable chunks is a piece of strong executive functioning. It is needed with math puzzles, research projects, and science experiments. In Atomic Habits, James Clear suggests that we should focus on getting 1% better each day. These small little changes will add up over time to larger changes. 1%, it seems like such a small manageable amount. Teaching our children how to break things down is a life skill that will serve them well beyond their school years.
We did the hike again two years later. When asked the next year if they wanted to do the hike a third time, both kids loudly sang out, “NO WAY!” but nothing could take away from the fact that they had done it. Twice.