Home > Education > I invite you to my learning!

I invite you to my learning!

December 30, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Photo credit: Salzburg Mountain Advent (Grossarl valley)

Unfortunately, I have to admit that I don’t spend much time in the kitchen — though the time I do, when making the few things I know how to, feels quite good! Therefore, I was excited the other day to try and bake apple strudels after my wife tried out an easy recipe with a pre-made dough one could buy from a supermarket — I know, we’re cheating, but the strudels taste great nonetheless and we all enjoy them in the family so much that not one survives for more than few hours, no matter the quantity. 😉

My older daughter (6) decided that letting daddy do it alone was not fair so she set out to help me — or rather do almost everything herself. I am all for letting the kids learn through experience, but when she reached for the knife to cut the dough I hesitated for reasons I can’t explain — after all, she’s been using a knife for long time and the worst thing that could happen was that the dough pieces would not turn out perfect squares (big deal!).

Anyway, I sobered up and let her cut the dough and do as much of the work as she wanted, standing happily on her side and marveling at the happiness at her face as she was doing it! Of course, being six, her attention got diverted by a new cartoon that started playing on the computer she left running when joining me in the kitchen so after about 5 minutes I was left alone to finish the preparation and do the baking. Still, in those 5 minutes I felt I helped her learn something, though I wouldn’t call myself a “teacher” for what I did!

Photo credit: Kim The Star Princess (Flickr)

Yesterday, we bought two side tables from IKEA, which — lo and behold — required assembly. You can probably guess the next thing — my daughter wanted to help me do it! With the baking experience still fresh in my mind, I didn’t hesitate for a moment and let her deal with the bolts, the wrench, even the hammer! We have done IKEA together with her many times, but usually I would let her do the easiest parts, while still maintaining great control over how she did them. This time it was different, for most parts, I was just pointing at the assembly step in the instructions leaflet and only step in when she requested help or couldn’t tighten the bolts enough.

Still, when it came to using the hammer, I felt the same hesitation as with the knife the other day — for the first table I made sure the wood dowel pins are already few millimeters inside the holes before she would hammer them to the required depth. Experiencing the familiar feeling from the baking episode, for the second table I decided to let her do the pins all by herself. Not only that, I also put my finger under the hammer to hold the pins so they don’t roll over as she was hitting them, risking slight injury if she missed the pin and hit me instead.

It was just a moment’s glimpse, but I noticed on her face how my action caused at first hesitation as she calculated the risk of hitting me, to be replaced with relief that I trusted her enough to let her do all the work by herself. I may be wrong and she may have just been excited by the opportunity of hurting me and showing me who’s stronger in the situation ;-), but I don’t think I am wrong in noticing the feeling of satisfaction when we were done — she could create something a lot harder and more complicated than all the paper crafts she’s done before. I’ve experienced that same feeling myself many times in my live, but the times I did it as a child seem the strongest moments in my memory!

I grew up in a small village just outside of a small town at the south-west of Macedonia. As a kid I was highly curious and wanted to try everything, from traditionally boy things to traditionally girl things — my mom used to say that even though she has two boys she feels like she gets the same help from me and my brother as if she had girls, which was a white lie or at least exaggeration in my opinion, but still didn’t exactly made my dad happy. 😉

The list of things I tried is long, but I’d still try to give you an impression of my curiosity with some examples.

Photo credit: © José A. Castellanos / age fotostock / Imagestate

By the time I turned 15, I had spent many hours under my dad’s and our neighbor’s cars, doing everything from changing tires and brakes, to changing spark plugs, even opening the engine block to replace the cylinder head gaskets.

We’ve built our family house with our own hands, with the help of friends and neighbors, so I have got to mix cement, carry blocks, bricks and stones and put them on the walls, help install windows and doors, glue tiles, paint the walls, etc. I vividly remember how the half-built house was the best playground me, my brother and our friends ever had a chance to play hide-and-seek and various other games, while everyone else was resting from the construction work.

With my grandfather, who was a carpenter, I got to use innumerable tools, including a table saw he let me operate myself — luckily I still have all ten fingers on my hands — and a metal polishing work wheel which earned me microscopic metal pieces in my eye that the doctor spent 15 minutes to get out after working unprotected.

As my family had some land we used for growing seeds, vegetables and fruits, I’ve done all sorts of things to help, including ploughing — both the traditional way with a horse and using a two-wheel tractor that my young muscles could barely control — planting, applying pesticides with a backpack sprayer, picking, even making wine and a kind of brandy (rakia) from grapes.

We also ran a small farm with chicken and pigs and at times kept horses, donkeys, dogs, cats, even rabbits — though taking care of them was not always a pleasant job for a young boy, I admit I enjoyed the feast when the pigs would be ready for the butcher’s knife, which was an event usually joined by neighbors and friends. My personal favorite was roasting pieces of fresh meat over slow fire with a long hook I held in my hands.

Photo Credit: Orlando Sentinel / gettyimages

As I was growing up, I developed love for physics and in particular was interested in electricity and electrical devices, so I got my share of installing power outlets, telephone lines around the house, fixing (at least trying) various electrical devices, even replacing the main fuses in the fusebox, which almost left me blind once after accidentally connecting two phases together 😦

If all of the above experiences would not satisfy my curiosity, my mom would always have something interesting to get me involved with — from baking (cakes were my favorites) to sewing (by hand and using a sewing machine we had at home), embroidery, knitting, even ironing my dad’s police uniform, which I would often try on myself. 😉

As I said, I can’t possibly list everything I ever tried — and some experiences like shooting from my grandfather’s hunter’s shotgun or my dad’s police gun would make you question my family’s views over raising kids 😉 — but the point is not in the number of experiences I personally had! Honestly, most of my friends shared similar experiences too. The point is about the fact that I had insatiable curiosity to learn about the world in which I lived and about my family’s response to it! Instead of showing me stuff and telling me how they work or how to use them, they let me experience them directly, despite the potential risks and hazards that would sometimes involve — for which I still have a number of visible scars today!

One thing we often don’t realize is that kids are expert learners! We seem to have innate ability and hunger to learn as much as possible about the world around us and we’re really good at it — until we grow older and enough people have told us we can’t learn on our own, we need to have a teacher to tell us what and how to learn, we need to learn at certain times, etc.

Photo credit: Fine Home Displays

Parents have virtually inexhaustible capacity to love their children — unfortunately, the love they practice is of the protective kind! They would do everything in their power to help their kids and ensure they’re out of harms way. This is not bad in itself, but it can get in the way of the kids’ learning.

When my daughter wanted to help me with the apple strudels or the IKEA side tables, she was curious enough to learn and opened up a door to let me in to participate in her learning. The same thing happened over and over during my childhood whenever I was interested in trying something new.

The lesson my parents — and not only them, but their friends and neighbors too, but sadly only few teachers — gave me was that they respected my invitation to join my learning. Instead of using the protective “show and tell” approach, they used the more risky “show and let” version. I believe that required a different kind of love from them — an open and trusting kind that is very different from the protective sort we’re all familiar with.

I believe that the mistake caused by protective love is very common, not only among parents, but also caregivers and teachers involved in the child’s learning. We see the kids as something so precious and pure we instinctively want to keep intact. We want to teach them about the world by showing them how it works and telling them how to behave in it, with a hope that such knowledge will protect them from harm. At the extreme, we deprive them from experiences and do ourselves a lot of the effort in handling the world for them.

We all need to practice more of the trusting love, as the protection we’re practicing is just an illusion. When they open the door to invite us in their learning and we choose not to participate, but give them a lesson instead, we force them to seek the experience we just took from them elsewhere. As they grow older, the door to their learning will stay closed longer and longer, until it shuts off for one last time and we’re left outside forever.

I don’t want that to happen to myself, so instead of trying to be an uninvited teacher, I plan to just be there at the learning door in case it opens! Once inside, my role will be to help when asked, guide when needed, and protect only when harm is imminent! I hope you’ll do the same too!

  1. January 1, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    Ha ha, the best part she got instantly distracted with a cartoon on TV.. So typical, I can totally relate! I agree with you that we are overtly protective and we have are raising a spoon fed generation – literally!! 😦
    Kima, you are getting better and better at making me explode into roaring laughter with each paragraph! Gosh, ploughing?! How does one do that anyway.. ?! And, you sound like a Jack of all trades, no pun 😉
    You know what, you should book mark this and show this to your girls when they grow up! They will be so proud!! And what can I say, if you are baking cakes, well that means the wife got lucky 😉
    OK, on a serious note, I think the key here is you the first response to your girl’s request at trying to help is a YES. I think she will appreciate that as she grows up.. And for the part where you wonder if she will hurt herself, I know how that feels, but once you know your girl and her tool handling skills better as she grows, maybe you will give her that one more hit or that one more minute with that task.. So, time will tell 😀
    Such a loving, daddy-like post from you! Love it!
    I wish you and all the girls in your family a wonderful and fascinating new year!!! Good luck!

    • January 5, 2011 at 12:14 am

      I am slowly getting out of the holiday mood so my response comes with a delay, which I guess is not too bad as I could make few more observations I’d like to comment about 😉

      I initially thought that the protective response is about preventing injuries and generally avoiding risky situations, but I had a revealing experience yesterday — up on one of the mountain peaks around Vancouver where we went for some snow tubing fun. 😉

      You see, I started long ago to ask my older daughter to do stuff like buying a drink or a snack for herself without me helping in any way, nor being too close to her to follow how she handles it, but that was usually in familiar places where we went together often. This time she wanted a drink up on the mountain and my first choice was to do it for her since the restaurant up there had an awkward self-help system. Very stupid of me, as familiar environments do not offer any new learning opportunities! Even when I decided I will make a mistake if I don’t let her do it herself, on the way out of the line I still felt I needed to explain to her everything in detail :-(. Another bad example of show and tell!

      One bad association that many people make when we refer to someone as being spoon-fed is that they usually have a picture of a lazy and spoiled brat demanding everything to be served to them. My reflection over the mountain experience makes me realize it is us, the spoon-feeders, who are preventing our kids to have different experiences where they will be challenged and grab the spoon themselves. I am inspired by both my younger daughter and her daycare because of the fact that she, at age 2, eats soup entirely by herself, finishing it all without making a total mess — and she is ready to scream at anyone who tries to take the spoon from her to feed her! 😉 I wish more kids scream when they see someone taking away the opportunity to learn from them!

      Thanks Rachana for checking my blog so soon after coming back from the family vacation! I hope you had great time and you’re still energized from the trip 😉

      I wish you and your family a full bucket of health, hope and happiness in 2011!


      P.S. If I ever get a chance to scan an old picture my mum keeps with me and my brother driving that one-wheel tractor we used for ploughing I promise to share it 😉

      • January 5, 2011 at 7:17 am

        Oh, I would love that to see that! Ha ha..
        Good to hear to are making most of the snow! I think old habits die hard Kima, we want our own flesh and blood, we want to be there for them everywhere and always – unconditionally.. So, we can’t even let them use something as simple as a f’n vending machine 🙂
        Interestingly enough my second born, 2 year old is wayyyyyyy to independent of how much my older one used to be at that age.. They say right, same house, same set of parents, but amazingly different personalities – with siblings! Hope to keep exchanging notes like this until their teenage years.. 😉
        I borrowed a Psychology book from my cousin and I am reading the environment vs. nurture effect on kids, and thought of you, will share what I read soon!

        • January 5, 2011 at 10:43 am

          I can’t prove it, but given my experience with my younger one and what others with two or more kids told me, I believe that the nurture – nature loop plays a significant role as they’re trying to create space for themselves in the family and the parents give them more room after the experience with the first one! 😉 I believe there’s lots we as parents can learn from the younger kids to fix the mistakes we did with the older ones!

          Btw, I was invited recently to blog alongside a great group of forward-thinking and open-minded educators at the Cooperative Catalyst blog and as I was reading your comment last night and answering back, I decided to turn our little discussion here into my first post there: http://coopcatalyst.wordpress.com/2011/01/05/scream-when-someone-takes-your-spoon/ How about that for an inspiring loop from a blogger friend to a blogger friend! 😉

          P.S. I am still waiting for your “one-sided” (remember this? 😉 ) opinion on The Nurture Assumption! Or maybe it was reading Harris that inspired you to read Psychology, in which case I am to expect a double delight from the thoughts you’ll share on the topic? 😉

  2. December 31, 2010 at 2:44 am

    Besides the parental trust and love demonstrated by your blog, it also illustrates the natural curiosity and love for learning in a young child. Our action steps for reforming K-12 education have to include the removal of the forces that destroy this at an early age. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    • January 1, 2011 at 8:58 am

      Thx David! I am grateful for your words as a parent, as I believe public schools can still offer great values as the system is transformed and it makes me hopeful to hear educators like you being engaged and excited about shaping it around the students!

      Remembering our own tendencies as we were kids is one good way to bring valuable input into the discussions. Honestly, I am surprised how much of my childhood experiences were somehow tucked deep in my mind and almost didn’t influence my decisions as an adult. Thx to my own kids, I am able to reflect and remember what was important to me as a kid!

      Thx for taking the time to read and comment!

  3. Ema
    December 30, 2010 at 2:13 am

    Very well written Kima! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article. My husband is much the same with all three of our daughters and it truly does make every difference in how they view themselves and their own abilities. You are an amazing father and devoted husband and your girls will grow up strong, confident, able, and with a strong sense of self. Because of your examples, as listed in the above article, they will in the future look for husbands that honour and respect the same qualities in them as their father. Keep writing!

    • December 30, 2010 at 9:45 pm

      I don’t now if it is a generational, cultural or some other group behavior, but somehow I see we’re all moving towards a protective love and don’t trust our kids will do what we’re expecting from them when left on their own devices. I am not immune from this either and feel the urge to help my kids, make it easier, prevent harm, etc. It is only through reflection and recalling of childhood memories I can see my own mistakes, that I deprive them from experiences and fool myself that the activities like swimming, skating, ballet, etc. would provide the experiences they need instead. How wrong! — I am not there to participate in their learning when they enjoy those activities and should make sure I don’t close the door on those rare opportunities when they’re inviting me into their learning.

      I am happy to hear your husband shares similar values with me. I guess the biggest value is to always question the impact of our actions in a bigger context — and be ready to make mistakes and fix them on the next possible occasion!

      Thanks for regularly reading my blog and providing words of encouragement to keep on writing! I can only hope my posts provide something valuable to you in return!

  1. January 5, 2011 at 1:25 am
  2. December 30, 2010 at 6:51 am

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