I am obsessed with ZPD. Zone of Proximal Development, for those less-obsessed (basically, normal). The ZPD is that sweet spot in learning, located between “too easy” and “save me,” where a student will succeed with some help.

We talk about it a fair amount in elementary school education, mostly in terms of reading. Students who don’t read their “just right” books typically fail to progress or give up in frustration.  I would say the same is true for exercise habits and studying and all sorts of things. It’s a fine balance, the ZPD: stretching ourselves enough to grow without breaking our elasticity.

Now for an example of not finding the ZPD. Imagine that a couple with virtually no renovating experience buys a 160 year-old house that is falling in on itself. Imagine that the back of the house looks like this:


This isn’t happy grow-yourself-land. This is “the only way out is through” territory, grit your teeth and get there.

We are not done with the project yet. Months lie ahead. But with the onset of winter and the absence of a heating mechanism in the Old Girl, we’ve decided to get started on our new home.  After Thanksgiving Kyle and I wandered into the downstairs unit and took a survey:

Bathroom hallway view kitchen

Time to take up carpet. So this:

carpet on the way out

Was soon this:


And the bathroom came down to the studs easy (wimpy drywall! Milt Finch and I are feeling especially vindicated about plaster):

down to the studs

And we even found some brick hiding behind there, which we are hoping to leave exposed:


Turns out that what is now the bathroom once had a chimney in it. The Secret Lives of Old Houses.

Seven months ago we considered a week spent laying engineered hardwood flooring our most miserable and challenging household endeavor. Our current venture? Not even breaking a sweat.

Vygotsky, the ZPD guru, isn’t a fool. Overshooting your limits is overwhelming. But it isn’t necessarily terrible. Or, at least, it’s only sometimes terrible. If you survive it, simple luck or sheer tenacity, your limits are forever changed.

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