This holiday season, I was chatting with some long-time family friends including a third-grader. I asked her the standard questions about school and what she had been doing lately. She described a power point slide that she had made about animal adaptation as her mother listened. I asked her what adaptation she learned about and she described how penguins have white bellies so that they look like glints of sunlight to underwater predators when they swim along the surface of the ocean.
I had to admit that I had never considered this impressive adaptation before and thanked her for sharing. Her mother looked at me and exclaimed, “Thank you so much for giving this demonstration of excellent mothering! I feel like I don’t do a very good job of asking her about school.”
Later on, I realized that I wasn’t actually practicing good mothering in that conversation; I was fully in “teacher mode”. I happen to be both teacher and mother to my children and while both often look similar and there are large swaths of territory in which these two roles overlap, they aren’t exactly the same. It is the teachers’ job to ask children about what they are learning, to find the topics that interest students, to not just “feed” children information but help them to evaluate their learning, to practice “metacognition” and to give them positive feedback when they are learning in order to create a positive feedback loop founded on social interaction.
Part of our job as parents is to make sure that our children have teachers (and other adults in their lives) who help guide them in this way: to help them think about learning.
In the absence of teachers who practice this, these responsibilities fall on parents’ shoulders. It is a lot to have parents do, especially around the “edges” of an already long school day. In our rather limited interaction with more traditional schooling here in Montgomery County, our children have not have any teachers who encouraged this sort of metacognition. As a result, much of our already limited time with our children was spent checking in with them in this way. This is just one of the many reasons we homeschool now. These conversations happen much more easily and naturally now and they are around topics towards which our children are naturally inclined. Much more of our energy goes towards not just learning what someone else has decided they should learn, but on how they can learn what they are truly and genuinely interested in. The return on investment has been well worth it.