BlogCOVID-19

Burning Toast is Learning

By March 22, 2020 No Comments

In homes around the world, parents are being asked to think about their children’s education in a new way – at home.  Parents, with plenty of other things to be stressed about, are feeling overwhelmed. On the home education front, a helpful shift could be to let go of the idea of recreating school and to instead think about what it means to hold space for learning at home.

What would this look like?  It could look like giving your children lots of opportunities for problem-solving and within that, giving them both freedom and responsibility. Some goals for this learning space could be:

  • Doing your best to help your children feel as safe and as happy as possible given the situation.  Safe means feeling loved and that the adults in their life, although stressed, are competent and in charge. We often think of happy children running around being wild and loud but happy can also look like a child deeply immersed in a book, proudly serving the snack they made for the family or finally figuring out how to finger-knit.
  • We’d also feel good if we saw some learning happening.  What does learning look like? If your child is occupied, concentrating, working at something over and over again until they get it right, your child is learning.  This could be figuring out how to zip their coat, rearranging their room, digging a hole in the backyard or teaching you how to play a game. All of these things involve problem solving, coordination, focus, planning and patience; if a teacher wrote a lesson plan that included all of these skills, she’d be very satisfied.
  • Siblings arguing and working through a disagreement are learning.  Not interrupting while parents are working is learning, staying positive while really missing friends is learning and understanding what it means to work together as a family to get through this is learning.  It’s still learning when it’s accompanied by grumbling, slammed doors and high emotions.
  • Making toast 3 times because you burned the first two pieces is learning, talking politely and enthusiastically to your grandmother on the phone is learning, thinking about the needs of your community and figuring out how you can safely share resources is learning.
  • Worksheets and flashcards are ways to practice or demonstrate what you’ve learned.  Real learning comes from interacting with real things – people and problems that need solving or developing a new skill because you’re interested and it will improve your life. Real learning leaves you feeling capable and competent and gives us the confidence needed to tackle new problems or situations, especially the hard ones.

Throughout human history, this is how children have learned.  On family farms and in family businesses, children have learned that the adults have things that they need to do in order for the family to succeed and that they have things that they need to do – both to support the family and to develop the skills that they’ll need to do the things they want to do as adults.

Your children can do this.  They’ll need some space. Some children are transitioning from schools where they’re told what to do and how to do it every minute of the day. They’ll need some time to revel in their freedom, to get bored, to complain, to accept their current reality and gradually they’ll find themselves drawn to and choosing activities that feel important and where they have a lot of autonomy.  You can support this by trusting that your children are capable, not being critical or giving unasked for advice and by understanding that trying and messing up is a key component of learning.

Parents also need to hold on to the idea that within this freedom, they’re in charge – they get to kindly but firmly veto ideas that are unsafe or unworkable and can set boundaries around children’s great ideas.  A six year old might suggest that, while the parents are working, they would like to create an obstacle course to meet the family’s need for exercise and fun. Parents can say – great idea, can’t wait and outline any objects or spaces that can’t be a part of the course and come to an agreement that everyone will work together to put away the obstacle course after several run-throughs.  It’s much better to set up the boundaries during the planning stage than to have a fun project end in tears because the child hadn’t thought through the clean-up process. If it takes a long time to clean up the very elaborate obstacle course, you don’t need to point this out. Your very intelligent child is probably thinking that they’ll create a much less complicated course tomorrow. This is learning.

Castle O'Neill

Author Castle O'Neill

Castle O’Neill has been a teacher and administrator in schools and teacher education programs in five states. She is a founder of Wild Rose Montessori, a Wildflower school serving ages 3-12 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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