As a teacher, I LOVE teaching this poem because it embodies decision making and critical thinking, particularly because of the challenge Frost gives us in his comment about the poem:The Road Not Taken (1916)
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,And sorry I could not travel bothAnd be one traveler, long I stoodAnd looked down one as far as I couldTo where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,And having perhaps the better claim,Because it was grassy and wanted wear;Though as for that the passing thereHad worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally layIn leaves no step had trodden black.Oh, I kept the first for another day!Yet knowing how way leads on to way,I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sighSomewhere ages and ages hence:Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by,And that has made all the difference.
"It's a tricky poem - very tricky."I will leave what is tricky for you to decide (and can add it in the comments - let me know). What I want to discuss is how to encourage occasional departures from the mainstream and the consideration of "paths less trodden" because as Frost notes, it can make "all the difference." And, teaching our kids to take these weighted risks CAN make all the difference for them - be it in school, with friends, or later in life when faced with even more complicated choices.
The trick is raising kids to critically evaluate choices, especially the less obvious ones, and to feel comfortable taking the occasional calculated risks. Being open to options is important for many reasons:
- It helps us lose the negative effect of labels - the closer we look at other people, placed, things, and other options, the less meaning the superficial labels have.
- Considering paths 'off the beaten track' trains a more flexible mind.
- By looking for diverse options we can navigate less congested paths to similar outcomes - be they physical destinations, or professional goals.
- Daily life - in clothing choices, leisure choices, choices in friends, etc.
- Travel - can be SO interesting and informative when you visit places off the beaten path. I have found gems doing this - no lines, no wait, super food, super products, or super cool interesting people. Try it!
- School projects - diverging from the obvious makes learning for everyone (student, teacher, classmates) more interesting and meaningful. Sometimes that means brainstorming and creating projects, book reviews, writing assignments that are different or relate a more obscure topic. Go online and have fun researching, planning, and constructing unusual topics.
- School choices - This might mean different schooling options (i.e. changing schools or homeschooling, or attending specialty schools instead of a liberal arts college). In one of the schools I worked at there was a really popular third grade teacher who'd been teaching there 30 years- all the parents knew of her and wanted their child to be in her class. But the thing is, her projects and curriculum were old and stale. The newer third grade teacher had exciting options in his lessons that for many proved the better class.
- College - You may want to rethink HOW you're applying to college (i.e., essay topic selection or writing / presentation style), WHAT colleges to focus on, or IF college is even the best choice. For some of us, college means loans - loans often greater than the value of our homes. Is it worth it? (Go to the following website: http://www.collegedropoutshalloffame.com/h.htm for a fascinating list of famous achievers who never attended or did not finish college.)
How to facilitate the discovery of options that are off the beaten track:
- Begin early. As toddlers, my kids only wanted us to read their favorite book, and one only wanted to wear green for a while, another always wanted to wear the cap of her 'Flash' pajamas because she would run around the house 'racing' time. Encouraging different choices even in the clothes they wear or the books you read is a nice start. [Granted rereading books is actually a good thing as kids learn to anticipate and 'read' familiar words and rhymes, but that is fodder for another post, and diversity is important as well.]
- Talk, read, listen, smell, attend to new and different things all around you. Make it a point to do this with really new things every so often. When shopping try a new fruit, read a new book, check out new exhibits and museums, etc. Go hunting for books with unusual covers or the word "slime" in the title, for example. In short, explore the 'uncharted'.
- Model by doing unusual things, visiting unusual places, driving to familiar places using different routes.
- When going on vacations select one or two visits that are off the beaten path, or simply walk with no guide around a new city or neighborhood.
- Go online, go to the library - search books, magazines, and newspapers for alternative ideas. Read different genres and formats of stories.
- Talk about how fictional and real-life figures might approach an unusual topic or problem. Be creative in the figures and topics you decide to discuss. Have FUN with this. Laugh, be creative, be extreme. In the process you may uncover some pretty cool approaches. Below is YouTube video marrying Mr. Bean with hiphop. It's fun. Come up with your own wild combinations together.
- Talk with people about anything/everything. You'd be surprised what type of ideas an unexpected conversation might yield.
- Look at trends new and old. Compare and contrast what did and didn't work. See if one trend or part of a trend can be applied to something different (or tangential).
- Brainstorm options (for large and small decisions) and really encourage kids to take alternative approaches.
How do you do this and encourage this for yourself or with your kids? Let us know in the comments.