Stephanie's Office

Oh we stayed a LONG time

by Pam Potter



The words Move Closer, Stay Longer, used to title Stephanie Burns’ most recent book, definitely have new and deeper meaning for us as a family.  This is no trite, dinky phrase.

18 months ago I wrote an article for Stephanie’s website describing how we as a family were using the Move Closer, Stay Longer strategies with our son Baxter. This article continues the story of my son Baxter learning to swim and how the Move Closer, Stay Longer strategies assisted us all to reach a deeper understanding of his learning process in many contexts.

Baxter Lego

The fantastic news is that Baxter did finally swim across the pool successfully, three times in fact to prove it wasn’t a fluke, and received his Lego prize. This amazing and joyful day occurred in February 2007, eighteen months from the first distressing forays into swimming. 

And what an 18 months that was. We stayed longer and longer and longer. Much longer than I anticipated that we would ever need to stay.

As it happens we discovered during that time that Baxter had a professionally medical “diagnosable condition” which was impacting on his physical ability to swim. Along with this “condition” also comes “anticipated anxiety”. A double whammy it would seem. But what I learned is just how successful the Move Closer, Stay Longer strategies actually are as we were able to work with, and override what others might think was not possible as it was a hard wired problem in Baxter.

I have to acknowledge his swim teacher through this period. She was patient and prepared to work with Baxter as an individual, gaining his confidence and safely introducing new activities. It was quite comical to watch as he would giggle at himself because he was no longer afraid of water but couldn’t work out how to float. He was growing taller and leaner and the longer skinny legs would drag down. A little “baby fat” to assist flotation would have been handy.

I was not always so patient.  In fact, I am embarrassed to admit that I got extremely frustrated with the apparent lack of progress and made noises about contacting an alternative swim school. Fortunately, I got very busy and continued with our long standing arrangements. I can’t help but think if I’d actually made the call that I would have sabotaged the whole process. I guess I’ll never know. It was only 3 weeks after my “spin” that Baxter had his breakthrough day.

Baxter the Frog! Baxter is quite the frog in the water these days

Another big surprise was that Baxter made his first successful crossing of the pool doing breast stroke (froggy legs), the third stroke that most kids generally learn. His teacher discovered that Baxter found this much easier than freestyle. Once his confidence grew, and he trusted he could actually float, he transferred his skills to freestyle.

He has announced now he would like to work on butterfly!

This experience has been invaluable for us as a family. It has truly opened my eyes to the breadth of application for Move Closer, Stay Longer.


The other example in our household would be when Baxter set about learning how to ride THE BIKE. Yes, there was a scare and it could potentially have turned into the next BIG thing. We’ve taken stock and reviewed Stephanie’s lessons however, and are moving closer with the introduction of a scooter. As parents we are intrigued to watch how interest in the bike is increasing as confidence on the scooter swells.

One activity we were surprised to find a problem was as Baxter began learning to read. Baxter is a bright, observant and funny child. It came as a shock to find that reading didn’t come naturally. Yes, we were told that it was that “diagnosable thing” at work again. A lot like swimming and being water safe when one lives at the beach, I feel it is essential that a certain level of literacy is reached in order to move through life.

We tried additional tuition but I felt the focus on repetition was more likely to kill his love of learning than teach him to read. It was like continually knocking on a wall and expecting it to magically turn into a door.

We returned to our bookcase

So we returned to Stephanie’s Move Closer, Stay Longer strategies and this led to think creatively about moving Baxter closer to reading. His grandmother struck upon setting up elaborate scavenger hunts which involved simple notes directing him to the next hiding place and small treats. We starting writing our own stories, involving Star Wars characters and occasionally on the subject of dog poo! This was important as we found that many stories written for his reading level were just plain boring. We played board games which involved reading. We scoured eBay together looking at, you guessed it, Star Wars merchandise. We selected anything that Baxter was interested in to get him closer and closer to reading and staying longer when there seemed to be overwhelming amounts of text in front of him.

The payoffs are clearly evident. Baxter has started drawing his own comic strip and more words are appearing in each episode to complement the images and to fatten the story. The other night, while reading a school reader there was a noticeable intake of air when the page turned and it was full of text. To his credit, he quickly steeled himself and stayed long enough to see it through. A few short months ago he would have been actively looking for an exit.

Motorbikes Not on our Christmas list just yet

What I do find intriguing is that I learned a long time ago that comparing myself to others was fruitless. There was very little to be gained from participating in that type of behaviour. It seems though as parents we are somehow conditioned to compare our childs’ development to that of others. It starts with the birth metrics, height, weight, head size and how these unfold. And then there is the major milestones stuff. While this might be useful in the first stages of life for medical reasons my conclusion is that the value quickly diminishes. Is it really useful to compare the age our childrens’ teeth fall out!

It is not useful for me to compare Baxter to my cousins’ children as they at the same age as Baxter, receive motorbikes for Christmas given Baxter’s experiences on a pushbike. Comparing is not going to lead us to any useful actions. Likewise, it is not useful to compare the handwriting of other children on the Easter cards to that of Baxter’s. I could have easily bopped a parent on the nose at the pool just recently as he was “shaming” his child by comparing his swimming to Baxter’s swimming. There was probably 4 years age difference and 85ish swimming lessons between the two boys!

Baxter Lego

I am proud to say I have an individual on my hands and my goal as a parent is to nurture and provide support where I can by being observant of Baxter’s reality and not imposing mine or anyone else’s. And let’s face it – he’s the one who is doing it.

I know Stephanie is clear at the start of her book that it is not a book about horses or exclusively for horse riders, but that can get lost in the mix of Stephanie’s great stories. She, of course, used her experience learning to ride a horse only to make her strategies clear. Move Closer, Stay Longer isn’t about horses at all. It is about how we choose to move through life and face challenges.

And my BIG lesson - it will take the time that it takes.


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