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Are We Teaching Our Kids or Helping Them Learn?

Are We Teaching Our Kids or Helping Them Learn?

When it comes to homeschooling, are we teaching our kids or are we helping them learn?

I’d never really thought about the difference until I took my high school daughter to her first violin lesson with a new teacher, but the lesson I learned from Mr. Peacock completely reshaped my understanding of education.

So, here’s the back story. My daughter was heading to a conservatory the following year to study as a concert pianist. But, Melody loved violin as well, and wanted to audition for the school’s orchestra. Her background in violin wasn’t up to speed, so I contacted the symphony nearest to us—which at that time was in Rapid City, South Dakota—and asked for their recommendations for the best violin teachers in the area.

That is how we first met Mr. Peacock. He agreed to audition my daughter to see her level and decide if he would take her as a student. After the audition, he accepted her.

Okay. So far, so good. But then, at her first lesson, as she pulled her violin out of the case, Mr. Peacock said, “Melody, I can’t teach you violin. . .” Hearing those words, my mind went into overdrive, yelling silently, “What? We just drove an hour to get here, you’ve already accepted her as a student, and now you decide you can’t teach her????”

Fortunately, those words didn’t fly out of my mouth, because after a brief pause, Mr. Peacock went on to say, “. . .but I can help you learn to play.”

“I can’t teach you violin, but I can help you learn to play.”

He went on to describe that he was going to show her ways to place her fingers on the strings, how to work with her bow, find a posture that would help her as a violinist, along with various strategies for making the strings sing . . .BUT unless she took these things home and practiced them until they became a part of her playing, she would never really be a violinist.

In short, he could show her how to play, but he couldn’t make her a violinist. That she would have to do for herself.

Wow. In one short moment, my whole perspective on teaching shifted.

What’s the normal view of teaching? I walk in as the teacher, you are my students. I have knowledge to dispense. I have a lesson plan. I have goals to meet. You better get on board because the train is leaving.

Sound familiar?

Mr. Peacock showed me a better way, a more relational way. From the very beginning, he made it clear to my daughter that they were entering into a partnership, one in which she was a key player. He would reveal things about the violin to Melody, and she would then work hard to take that information and practice it until it was “under her fingertips.” He was always very encouraging to her, always supportive of the work SHE was doing.

That’s what was so wild to me. Instead of the focus being on Mr. Peacock as the teacher, the focus shifted to Melody and the work she was doing. This man was a master teacher, a brilliant educator, yet his approach was one of humility and service to his student. He offered wisdom in playing violin and then helped, encouraged, and facilitated as she did the hard work of learning.

And, make no mistake, really learning something IS hard work, whether we are talking about violin or penmanship or multiplication tables or the periodic table or world history.

As homeschool parents, we can offer our children a relational approach to education, one where they are highly esteemed partners in the work of learning. All we have to do is shift the focus from ME and what I am doing to OUR KIDS and what they are doing.

What does that look like in real life? Well, let’s imagine that you have a boy who is nine years old. He’s great at climbing trees, but not so much when it comes to memorizing the multiplication table. You know, 8×8=64. . .

Now, I can, as the homeschool mom, get real uptight about my student dilly-dallying around and not buckling down to learn those multiplication facts. I have a schedule, and he’s behind.

Or, I can, in a very relational way, watch as he tries to learn those facts, and ask myself, “What can I do to make this easier for him?”

When I was actually IN this situation, I realized that my nine year old was really good at moving, so I asked him if he would like to do some jumping jacks while he was practicing his multiplication tables. Michael’s eyes lit up with joy as he jumped from his chair to start doing jumping jacks. . . And you know, doing jumping jacks made all the difference for this one nine year old kid.

When we see ourselves as the servant, the assistant, the facilitator, and the encourager to our kids as they did the HARD WORK of learning, everything changes.

Isn’t that a simple, but challenging, thought? See you next time! 

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