Can you remember a time when you learned how to do something by working alongside someone who was already doing it? When I stop and reflect on my life I think a majority of the things I learned, especially the things I learned how to do, I learned by working alongside someone who was doing the work. Neither of them held classes or made me read books to teach me these things. I simply learned by helping them. I learned how to operate my first camera, repair guitars, buy stocks, and probably things like brush my teeth and clean dishes in this way too. It’s a powerful mode of learning and yet within writing about education it seems to be neglected.
Parents are constantly and not intentionally training their kids in this fashion. It’s like an apprenticeship where we are doing the work of living our lives and our children are along for the ride. That can be a sobering responsibility because they don’t just listen to the words we say, they end up doing the things that we do. Our children become a lot like us, not just because of the inheritable traits we pass down, but because of the examples, we set for them — the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Often I get stuck in thinking that my kids are my students, that they are waiting for me to share my tutorials of how to live in the world. That’s not the case. To them, my actions are telling them all they need to know. The fact that my children learn so much from the people they spend their time with is one of our motivations for being homeschoolers. There are times when it would be way more convenient to have the children away from home during the day. My wife and I could more easily take an afternoon off together or meet each other for lunch. But, we would lose the many opportunities we have to show our children how we live.
Have you ever observed a bored child? They can become whiny and demanding. But I get bored too. I try to talk about my boredom out loud and let them hear how I find something to do. At the end of the day, boredom is a problem our children are fully equipped to handle if we can be patient enough to wait for them to handle it.
The freedoms we have in life are powerful, but as the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility. I may rarely talk about the ways I use my freedom for myself and for others, but my kids observe how I carry myself in the world and show them what I think they should do with their freedom, even when my actions disagree with my words.
Many parents hide their decision-making process from their kids. They don’t want to seem unsure of themselves maybe and so make their decisions silently or behind closed doors. But imagine being a skilled worker and actually hiding your methods from your apprentice in hopes that they won’t catch some of your mistakes. Even a skilled trade worker can use a second set of eyes to make sure the work doesn’t suffer. When our kids are allowed to see how we make decisions they start to learn our process and can even help us spot blind spots in our decisions. Furthermore, life is full of choices — the more practice you get making choices, the better you get at it.
The above are some of the big things I think my kids get to learn from me, but there are also daily things that are important like the stories we tell, the shopping trips we take, and the conversations we have. All of these are meaningful learning opportunities even though I’m doing very little instructing.
Even if you’re not a homeschool family, you can still recognize the ways you’re teaching them when they’re around you. The attitude that you approach learning, extracurricular activities, and relationships with friends tells your kids what you think is important.
There are plenty of lessons I want to teach my children about that I’m trying to learn myself. I wish I was a more involved and helpful neighbor and community member. I would like to be more handy around the house and I’d like to host more get-togethers in our home. But I recognize that I haven’t arrived — I’m still developing and learning, constantly becoming more like the kind of person I want to be. We are all works in progress, learning and growing as we live, which may be the most valuable lesson my children can learn from spending time with me.
This article was written by Philip Mott. Learn more about him on his website.