Mom and the Mat

My typical exercise pattern is to walk several times a week. I walk the dog, walk around the park, and walk on a treadmill. Then I thought about how my daughters and their friends seem to really get a good workout doing the video game Dance Dance Revolution (DDR), and they have a lot of fun exercising to the music. So I decided I would give it a try, and my family presented me with my own DDR program that included the dance mat. The program has a number of options, including dancing with a friend if you have more than one mat. The “classic” mode is to step on the mat in the same pattern that is displayed on the screen. I could also try to match the game’s movements with my arm motions as well as stepping on the right spot at the correct time, but quickly decided I should hold off on that until I mastered the footwork part. The criteria I use for selecting songs is to find the lowest BPM (beats per minute) in hopes that I will be able to keep up with a slower song. Some of the song possibilities are “oldies” so I am familiar with them. Others I have never heard of, including one song that my middle-aged eyes misread as “Plastic Breath” so I selected that song out of morbid curiosity. Turns out it was “Plastic Beach”, which was not nearly as interesting. It has been fun to exercise with the DDR, although it has made me think about the experiences of a struggling learner as I work hard to get the moves right and it’s immediately followed by a screen with feedback listing how I performed. The screen shows my statistics for various aspects of the routine, and in bold print on top of the categories is the message “Try Again”. Are you kidding me? I just stomped and hopped around for an entire song, and despite my best attempts I get “Try Again”? How about some encouragement? Maybe something like “Hey, you’re back! Good for you for exercising again!” Or at least “Nice try. Keep up the good work.” My children offer feedback as they watch me work out on the DDR mat, and they kindly don’t connect the second mat to join me in my workout since it would be like me competing with Happy Feet the penguin. They gently offer pointers, such as “Mom, you know you have two feet, right?” Apparently in addition to be right-handed I am also right-footed, since my natural inclination is to do all of the stepping with that foot. I was also informed that stomping harder on the mat does not increase speed or accuracy. At least that information is useful to keep in mind, unlike the discouraging message to try again. I actually got a more positive message when all I did was walk to the customer service desk at the grocery store to throw a piece of trash away. As I approached the desk, a mechanical voice informed me, “You’re a winner!” Of course, it was to entice me to play the lottery, but at least it was more positive than my perpetual DDR message telling me that basically my best efforts just aren’t good enough. Students with learning disabilities or attention challenges also hear “Try again” over and over. While it’s true that many times tasks do have to be redone, I think we should at least try to acknowledge something positive even if it’s just to recognize that effort has been made. Everyone needs to feel successful at something. Fortunately, I am not training for any DDR competitions and my intent is simply to have fun while I exercise. I know there are other things I am good at doing, and I am more annoyed than discouraged with the DDR’s observations of my performance. Our children likewise need to know that there are things they can do well. Sometimes it is in the academic realm but often it is in a different venue. It is vital to help them find something that they can enjoy and feel confident in their ability to perform. My children found success in creative endeavors through art activities. They also enjoyed personal accomplishments through the sports of martial arts and swimming, two activities that help burn off excess energy and that can be engaged in year-round. Homeschooling allowed me to build in daily encouragement in addition to all the necessary corrections and redirections. My experience with the DDR program reminded me how discouraging it can be to have feedback limited to “Try again!” when despite my best efforts the standard for success still seems out of reach. Our children need the acknowledgement that we recognize their efforts in addition to the results, and not crush them under the weight of too many “Try again” messages.

2 Responses to Mom and the Mat

  1. Lois Tackett steele says:

    Melinda, I really appreciate your ability to paint a picture with words and the use of humor to bring an important point home to your readers. I have an exercise game with my wii that seems to think discouraging remarks are a proper motivational tool.

    When I was homeschooling my mob of boys, for a long time I did not have a computer and when i did get one, I had a great time finding academic resources. Sights like yours are a real blessing to all home-school parents and I am happily recommending it to every one I know who works with kids.

  2. melinda says:

    Thanks for you kind remarks and your input.
    “Mob of boys” – I love it! Hope you and your “mob” are doing well. Blessings to you.

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