Monday, February 23, 2015

The Art of Carefully Stepping Out of the Way

image: Rachel Samanyl. Modifications: TSL
Do you interrupt your children's learning?

I recently found some new games for the iPad, including one called "Montezuma Puzzle". It's basically a puzzle version of Tetris. The game displays an empty box, along with a bunch of different shaped pieces and your job is to fit them all together.

The girls and I worked together at first, and then I found other things to do. I walked by to check their progress and saw that B had discovered the "hint" button. They were now using it to complete about 85% of the puzzle.

I scolded them a bit for using it to guide them. B argued back, followed by abandoning the game to do something else. Both girls were now grumpy and bickered back and forth during their play.

I was annoyed with myself. I had interfered and created an issue where there was none. The girls had been independently taking turns, assisting each other and having fun. They just weren't doing it the way I expected them to.

Over the next week, they played the game together on and off. If I had the urge to look or comment, I busied myself with something else.

And then I heard, "Ok, if you can't figure it out, use the hint."

I sat down near them to spy. B and C were completing the puzzles by themselves, asking each other for advice when they got stumped, and using the hint button on the harder puzzles.

I had failed to recognize in the early days of play that they were naturally scaffolding. The puzzles were new and challenging, and the hint wasn't cheating; it was modeling. The girls were moving through the steps of learning...examples, modeling, try it with some help, do it independently. When I got involved, I disturbed their flow. The process became frustrating and annoying, and came to a halt.

The key lesson about unschooling that I have found to be the most challenging and most necessary to learn is this: I have to get out of the way. Be a facilitator. Not a micromanager.

Adults are used to sequential learning, because it's how most of us were taught. Some kids learn well this way, some do not. No matter the method of choice, all kids LEARN, with or without adults peeking over their shoulder. I find every day that more learning is accomplished without my intervention.

It's been a transformation for me. I began as a public school teacher and became a structured homeschooler. Life happened, and we became "relaxed homeschoolers" which led to my discovery that less is more, especially when it comes gifted kids, and unschooling was the best fit for us.

B summed it up succinctly the other day while experimenting in the kitchen. I offered her a cookbook, to which she replied, "Why would I want to follow a boring recipe, Mom? It's way more fun to not know what I am doing at first, and keep trying. All of a sudden, my brain figures it out, and I know just what I need to do."

Yes, indeed.


  1. This is so very true. Children are natural learners. My son (we are in the process of having him tested) teaches me this lesson everyday. I have discovered that sometimes I need to be a kid too in order for me (us) to learn. Looking at the world with child like wonder has helped with making sure homeschooling is fun experience. Sure, we have are crazy days, but sometimes one just has to roll with it. Sigh. Sometimes, it is better said than done. ;)

    I recently found your blog and am enjoying reading your post. :)

    1. "I have discovered that sometimes I need to be a kid too in order for me (us) to learn." I love that statement; it is the key! I get wrapped up in my adult-ness sometimes and miss opportunities to let my girls just be and learn like children. Thanks for reading - I'm glad you found the blog!

  2. Oh, I am going to download that Montezuma Puzzle. My little guy love playing Katamino and I think he will enjoy this, too. Thanks so much for sharring. :)

  3. I adore this. I try to get out of the way, until I feel guilty that I'm TOO out of the way, and then I get in the way again. Sigh.

    1. I go through the same cycle. I have found that reading a book that I REALLY want to concentrate on right in the middle of the living room is a sure fire way to get invited to play again. ;)

  4. Love this! Both because it contributes to freedom and dignity in the world, and because if I follow this approach I can have one less thing (OLT) to worry about.

  5. Absolutely! Parenting has enough details to think about. Why add more to the list, right? :)

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