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Can Kids Teach Themselves?

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Can Kids Teach Themselves?

By Linda Dobson

kids teach themselves

“How do you do that, that thinking out loud thing?”

I always shied away from praise about the kids’ behavior, intelligence, talent, kindness, whatever. Assuming there was enough time for the conversation that would commence as soon as I said it, I’d respond with something to the effect, “It’s not me; it’s the kids; really, they’re educating themselves.”

Interesting how the person who just moments before was flattering me suddenly experienced a complete body language shift. The eyes might widen in disbelief, or narrow as if I was the devil incarnate standing before her (it wasn’t always a “her,” but mostly). It was the narrow-eyed ones that made me wonder if the conversation was going to result in a visit from some child protective agency.

Answering the Question Can Kids Teach Themselves?

“Can kids teach themselves?” some asked, a living tribute to the successful programming of the vast majority of the population, courtesy of government schools. (And we do have to set aside the reality that yes, any of us can “teach” ourselves, in order to offer a different, hopefully helpful, perspective to the questioner.)

The key to this question, of course, is the unstated assumption that whatever wonderful attribute is noticed in a child, it has been taught. The assumption is a result of what I’ve termed “school mind” in some of my writing. There must be a teacher! If there is no teacher, then learning can’t happen! No learning without teaching!

“I’m not talking about the kids teaching themselves,” I assure the questioner. Her body relaxes – a little. “We use every life moment and learn from it, talk about everything under the sun, meet people, volunteer, read a whole lot, ask questions…oh, and I use ‘thinking out loud’ quite often, too. Experience is the best teacher in the world. Experiencing real life leads to real life learning. Through it, the kids have learned how to learn. You know, living life instead of hearing about pieces of life through a teacher.”

“Unless they need or would like a teacher,” I throw in, thinking about the American Sign Language teacher, and the community college classes that became part of our overall experience.

“Oh.” The silence is deafening. Except I hear the wheels turning. The quiet grows uncomfortably long so, figuring I’m on a roll, I prepare to continue, but the questioner asks, “What is thinking out loud?”

Thinking Out Loud Helps Kids Teach Themselves

I smile. “So many people say that schools just want children to do well on tests today, and don’t really help children learn how to think. Just like all of the experiences I’ve already mentioned, my ‘thinking out loud’ literally helps the kids hear and learn how a mind works to solve a problem or accomplish a task.”

“Oh.” The silence is deafening. Except I hear the wheels turning. And I’m thinking maybe I won’t have to deal with a child protective agency, after all.

“How do you do that, that thinking out loud thing?” I’m asked.

“Simple things when they were young,” I explain. “The recipe for dinner serves four, but we need to feed six. How much more do I need to make?  We have to be back here in three hours, and we need to go to the bank, the post office, the grocery store, and the library. Round trip travel takes an hour, and we usually spend an hour in the grocery store, and way more than an hour at the library!”

“Well, Mom, then we can’t go to the bank and the post office, too. We’ll just skip them.”

“We have to go to the post office or Grandpa’s birthday gift won’t get to him in time. Oh, how are we going to arrange this?” I think out loud.

“I know! We can go to the library another day, and then there’ll be time to go to the post office and the bank. And then we’ll be able to spend a lot of time at the library!”

“Your kids like spending time at the library?”

“They sure do. And it takes time to gather together the bags full of books they bring home.”

“Oh.” The silence is deafening. Except I hear the wheels turning. And I’m thinking maybe I won’t have to deal with a child protective agency, after all. And I’m thinking she’s starting to get it. And I’m thrilled when a month later she calls to tell me her family will be homeschooling in the fall.

See also “PLAY Is Vital for Healthy Children

Can kids teach themselves? It’s the wrong question, from a wrong starting point. The real question is, “Can kids learn?” Sure. As long as adults don’t destroy the inherent desire and passion for it. If we stop turning it into a boring, piece meal chore. And when we adults put ego aside to attain that wonderful aha! realization.

Learning happens.

This article originally appeared in Home Education Magazine, Jul/Aug 2011

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2 Responses to “Can Kids Teach Themselves?”

  1. Carma says:

    “Can kids teach themselves? It’s the wrong question, from a wrong starting point.” – I love this! Choose your ground, turn the question around into something that is obvious. I find most questions can be dealt with this way, not just on homeschooling issues. Finding the right perspective is so important!

    • Hi, Carma, I agree, perspective is everything so the right perspective is crucial! Thanks so much for reading, and for taking the time to write – happy that you’re here!

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