This blog is where we share our homeschooling journey. Our style is eclectic, employing strategies like notebooking, workboxing, and some relaxed unschooling I like to call organic or free-range learning.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Teachable Moments #3

When Do I Teach ______?

Part 3 of a 3-part series on using Teachable Moments to boost a child's learning experience.

Last time we saw an example of how easy it is to find teachable moments if you know what to look for--and how easy they are to overlook if you are a slave to the ShouldBe committee's schedule. Today we'll cover why teachable moments do NOT mean children will inevitably be "behind" in their studies.

Admittely I left us in something of a cliffhanger last time. In a shocking move, Johnny's mom callously shoved aside the ShouldBe's calendar and let Johnny do a science project instead of practicing the writing he's getting really "behind" on.

How will poor Johnny ever learn to write if Mom doesn't make him do it?

Let's fast forward to Johnny in the 4th grade, shall we?

Let's assume Johnny's mother kept up this What I Want To Learn Right Now stuff. 4th grade Johnny is hard at work hand writing a science report on the life cycle of parasites (an 8th grade project according to ShouldBe's, since he loves science and has had many What I Want moments involving it). He's also well ahead in math, and at his grade level in other areas except fine arts. He writes his report without whining or complaint and looks forward to learning each day, because he loves what he's doing.

But did the writing thing happen? He didn't love THAT, and couldn't even write the alphabet by the end of kindergarten.

Well, a miraculous thing happened around the middle of first grade. Johnny was going to the science museum and wanted to write down a list of all the different rocks in the mineral exhibit. His mother astutely noted a long-awaited Teachable Moment and brought along some large pencils and a notepad. He carefully copied the letters he saw on each rock's display plaque. One thing lead to another, and within a few weeks he was writing all his letters. By the end of second grade, he was writing more complex stories than most traditional school counterparts, most about science. So did his mother's "lax" approach to writing damage his education? Quite the contrary.

Oh, and there's that pesky matter of Johnny still being "behind" in art. He grows bored with trying to make artsy stuff when there's so much science to learn about. Ahh, but soon enough his parasites report will involve drawings he wants to include, ones he will realize don't match up to the quality he wants for information of this complexity. He can ask Mom to help him Google art tutorials to help his drawing skills, or perhaps he'll go 3-D and do a gumdrop and toothpick sculpture. These "boring" art projects will be embraced readily and without complaint, because then it will be Johnny's What I Want To Learn Most Right Now time. Score another one for the teachable moment!

Naturally, not all the examples in this series work out so exact in real life. Some children get frustrated easily no matter what, and others may need a bit of clever motivation to trigger teachable moments with subjects they don't enjoy. (See my blog post on No Math Day for a sneaky example.) Still, I'd rather not drag my kid through rote schooling she'll happily forget later just to say we did it "on time." I'd much rather raise a child who loves to read, write, explore science, and appreciate art because she's embraced each of them on her own terms. Potential employers don't care at what age applicants learned to spell their names, so why should I?

So I say be bold, let go, and trust the fantasmagorical learning process of a child. You'll be glad you did.


I hope you've found this series useful. I may add more tidbits on Teachable Moments later. Feel free to share YOUR tips on using this technique as well.

Until next time remember---in a homeschooling family, class is never dismissed! Keep on learning...

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Teachable Moments #2

When Do I Teach ______?

Part 2 of a 3-part series on using Teachable Moments to boost a child's learning experience.

In the last post I defined what a teachable moment is and gave an example every parent might face. Today we'll apply the concept of teachable moments to home school lessons.

So let's say the ShouldBe committee (aka mother-in-law, neighbor, school district, etc.) says that all children Should Be writing complete paragraphs by the end of kindergarten. Mom drills Johnny dutifully each day, trying not to panic when the calendar pages slip away and he hasn't even mastered half of the uppercase alphabet yet. Meanwhile, with each lesson he looks bored and distracted, kicks the table leg, and grows frustrated--maybe tearful--when he can't get his "A" right. Sound familiar? I've had it happen to me with most all of my kids at one time or another, and here's how a typical conversation might go during such a lesson:

Johnny: "Writing is stupid. When can we do that science project?"
Mom: "Not until you finish practicing these letters."
Johnny: "No! I hate writing!" (Followed by tears.)

In this instance, Mom overlooks a perfectly good Teachable Moment because of the ShouldBe committee. In fairness to Mom, this can be a tempting choice when such committees are quite vocal and official sounding about what our kids Should Be doing.

But let's take so-called experts, expectations, and fear of failure out of the equation for a moment. Who decided what a child has to learn when? How well did that person/committee know YOUR child? Will this change five years from now? You bet! They changed every time I enrolled one of my kids in a public school. So I take such guidelines with a grain of salt.

So ShouldBe's aside, the key to recognizing how and when to teach your child anything is to take the pressure off yourself. Our kids WILL learn. No kid goes off to college still wearing diapers, though when I had a resistant toddler I felt that way at times! Truly, the BEST expert on how and when your child will learn most effectively is...your child.

Let's review the above scenario again from a Teachable Moment approach.

Johnny is writing his letters, but Mom notices he looks bored, sighs, and kicks the table leg. She suspects this may not be a teachable moment for writing.

Mom: "How's our writing practice going?"
Johnny: "Not good. When can we do that science project?"
Mom: "Great idea! Here, let's put the writing supplies away and do it now."
Johnny: "Yay!"

Success! This mom is much more likely to find her son's school day productive, as he has an active interest in the subject being taught.

But wait! How will Johnny learn to write? What if I said he may not? Not for a while, anyway. How could any self respecting homeschooler make such a statement? Hang on, I'm about to get to the Promised Land!

Stay tuned for part 3 of my series, where I'll discuss why following the natural course of teachable moments does NOT mean leaving a child "behind" in their studies...regardless of what the ShouldBe's say.

Until then remember---in a homeschooling family, class is never dismissed! Keep on learning...