Maybe it’s because I’m gifted. Or because I have no patience with pedantic people. Actually, I don’t have much patience anyway (hmm wonder where the Engineer got that from?) so I can’t stand sitting there and listening to someone drone on and on.
My brain flitters here and there: oohh look! A butterfly! Wait, where did the Destroyer go? Is the Engineer going to loudly ask about what those bugs are doing? Great, the Princess is going to wail about not being in front. Can we just go now? Please?
Oddly enough, I can generally grasp the gist of what the speaker is saying even if I’m not truly paying attention. I even jump ahead of their presentation if I’m familiar with the subject and ponder the next step or a fascinating offshoot of information.
I am not a good audience. Neither are my kids.
They’re young – they have little patience to start with. But they have absolutely no patience with “teaching.” Which is a difficult thing to deal with because they have to learn to be polite and listen at some point.
This week was a prime, hilarious example of what’s wrong with our society’s standard style of teaching. We went on a field trip with our local homeschool group to an interactive farm. For this visit to the farm, we were going to learn colonial farm skills: hands-on, active, and outside. I signed up hoping for the best. After all, the Engineer did well at a different historic site with hands-on activities.
My first clue that my expectations were off started at the introduction by a coordinator who told us the rules. Mostly common sense – no climbing, running, and so on. Then she said “just like in school, you need to be calm and quiet.” My eyebrows went up.
We’re outside! Birds singing, breeze blowing, leaves crunching underfoot. Be quiet?
So we head into the farm skills area and fanned out into casual groups for each station. The Engineer wanted to make a candle, and off we went to the candle making station. We were first up, joined by a few other families with similar aged kids. And they’re all excited to learn how to make candles, yay! Candles! Hot wax…yikes! I very nearly dragged the kids to the next station.
The demonstrator started talking. We heard about what the candles were made with, and how settlers didn’t use many. What? (apparently they all went to bed when it was dark, right back up in the morning) When she started talking about how she hated the smell of tallow candles my interest level went zip. The Engineer and Destroyer had already discovered the swarm of lightning bugs over in the bed of leaves, but the Engineer came back to ask when we were doing the candles.
Not yet, kiddo, not yet. Drone on.
Around the 5 minute mark, the Engineer loudly announced that “she talked too much” and headed back to the bugs. At 10 minutes, another – very polite – child piped up and asked “when are we going to make the candles?”
The demonstrator huffed exasperatedly and said:
“if you’ll stop asking questions so that I can finish talking, we’ll make them in a minute!”
Just..speechless! At that point I grabbed the kids, trying not to laugh, and we headed over to a different station. Sure enough, after we combed our wool and I did most of the work making it into yarn, we saw the group finally heading off to dip their candles. We grabbed a few wicks and joined in – some 20 minutes after we left!
Yes, I understand you get a not-comfortable-with-teaching volunteer at times. But I can’t remember any of them ever verbally slapping a kid down like that before.
I mulled over that comment all day. Thought about it today too. Then my grandmother, a retired teacher, made a very astute comment that solidified my feelings. She said:
“She (the demonstrator) was trying to teach the subject, not the child.”
My brain went DING! That’s it!
We homeschoolers focus on teaching the child. Our child. We meet them where they are and guide them forward. We cheer their progress, we hope for excellence, but we’re focused on the child learning and growing.
It seems like every time we go to a field trip that involves a guide of some sort, they’re exclusively focused on teaching the subject. The children are beside the point – they’re extraneous. Sometimes it seems like the guides don’t expect the children to listen or understand what they’re teaching anyway, so why bother?
And of course, sometimes the kids don’t listen. Mine don’t ever look like they’re listening even when they are. But consider this – what if the demonstrator taught the child instead of the subject? What if questions were welcomed, and rabbit trails were awesome?
Sure, you might not get through your whole spiel about settlers getting up early or mice love to eat beeswax candles, but that’s ok. Have a handout, or encourage the kids to come again and learn about more interesting stuff.
I couldn’t help but think how much more information the kids would have retained if she had handed them wicks and had them walking and dipping while she talked. You have to dip a candle many times to build up enough wax – she could have covered all of her material with a captive audience!
I think I’m too used to thinking outside of the box – because the box irritates me now. I don’t want my kid to stop asking questions. I don’t want him to be happy to sit for 30 minutes while someone talks. I want him to be doing instead of sitting because that’s how he learns. I want him to be active, not passive. To be curious.
Never stop asking questions, kiddo. You’ll regret it if you do.