I love books, if you didn’t already know. My daughter does, too. She’s got a good speaking vocabulary, and knows her letters back to front (literally), but still relies on her parents to act as live-performance audiobooks.
To remedy that, us older folks have been trying to teach Little Girl how to read on her own. It’s been difficult, sure, but it’s also been really rewarding. It may sound trite, and I really hate the touchy-feely new age statements of “the experience taught me things, too,” but…
The experience taught me things, too.
I realized a few things that has implications for how we learn things as adults. And if you’re willing to cut through all the sentimentality, I’m willing to share it.
Spoon-feeding holds you back. A lot.
Like I said before, Little Girl knows what the words in the book mean. But as far as actually reading the word? Not so easy. I got her to spell it out, utter the syllables and string them together until her mind made the connection. When it got difficult, she’d become frustrated and demand that I just tell her the word.
I admit that I gave in at first. I just told her the more difficult words. Then she started demanding it for every other word, too. She wanted to be spoon-fed the answer because the hard way was… well.. hard. And as a result, her brain shut down and she wasn’t learning anything anymore. She was just memorizing.
It’s scary how much schools rely on this method. I don’t know how kids are taught now, but when I grew up teachers just shoveled facts into our brains, which I can barely remember. The ones I remember best were things learned in the context of an activity, or stuff I had to figure out myself. Memorization has its place, but not as the backbone of a learning experience.
Focus is a skill, not a trait
As I started pushing Little Girl harder (figuratively), she lost interest and started toying with the other items on the desk. A pencil. A paper clip. Even her own feet. Anything but whatever hard task daddy was making her do. If I didn’t push her to keep going, she would’ve just wandered off.
I wish I could say that it’s a problem exclusive to kids, but it’s not. Adults have this problem, too. We’re just good at hiding it behind fancy words. Procrastination. Multi-tasking. Motivation (or lack of). What it boils down to is a lack of focus. A teacher or training buddy can help you keep it, but if you really want to succeed, you need to learn how to maintain it yourself.
My attitude matters just as much as hers.
As frustrating as the lessons were for Little Girl, it was just as frustrating for me. But I noticed that whenever I let my irritation show or let my enthusiasm flag, it would affect Little Girl’s motivation for learning. If I snapped at her or lost patience, she’d disconnect and do something else.
So I had to act like teaching her to read the word “stoplight” was the highlight of my Friday evening and, frankly, the only thing I wanted to do EVER. Because the alternative was chasing her down and taping the book to her forehead.
Think about the most boring teacher you ever had. Did he shuffle through his lessons like a zombie? Punch the clock and not give a shit about anything more than checking things off his lesson plan? Did you learn anything from his class? I thought not.
Now think about a teacher that was really pumped about her subject matter. She took a joy in sharing her knowledge with as many kids as she could, and her enthusiasm infected everything she touched. What was her class like?
The Last Word
I’m pretty sure this isn’t the last time my daughter will have inadvertently taught me things, and when she gets to the proper age I’ll properly bore her with all of my lame parental realizations (and if I play my cards right, I can use this lameness to drive off boyfriends I don’t like).
But I think the biggest takeaway from this experience is that, as a parent and an amateur educator, I can’t afford to slack off and spoon-feed her the answers. That’s the easy way out, and it’ll do her more harm than good.