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Trying to Teach a Child vs. Being a Facilitator of Learning

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When I was doing my teaching degree, we learned that ‘gone are the days of blabbing in front of a classroom of students, whose minds are empty vessels‘. The teacher needs to stop spoon-feeding information. We learned that the better roll of a teacher is to step back and let the students take charge of their learning. Facilitating learning, rather than ‘teaching‘, supposedly makes learning more authentic and more meaningful to students. The students are supposed to become more self-motivated and the learning becomes fun and self-directed, in a similar fashion to this learning English site. It sounds awesome, right?

But, I never really ‘got‘ it. Mostly due to the sheer number of students in my classroom, along with having to meet deadlines and deal with behaviour, overcrowding, underfunding and disengaged students. I often found myself standing at the front of the classroom, spewing out content. Exactly what they taught us NOT to do. Even now, at my university job, where we teach the value of being a ‘facilitator of learning‘, I find myself ‘teaching‘ way more than ‘facilitating‘. ‘Teaching‘ takes a lot of energy and makes you feel tired.

Soooooo… This year, I had a revelation. We started our first official year of homeschool, my older daughter is 6, and I FINALLY get what it means to facilitate learning. Although I understood the theory, I only just now have been able to experience it.

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You know what I did to become a facilitator of learning? Next to nothing.

I set out some materials. I keep a reasonably clean and organized space (or try to). I include her in as many everyday activities that I can handle. I answer questions and give explanations (but not all the time, there’s value in leaving some questions unanswered). The kids watch me. I watch them. We play. We get lots and LOTS of exercise and outdoor time. And man, they learn! The older one might not be learning exactly what’s in the curriculum for her age group, but I can see her interest in life. I mean, what kid is NOT interested in learning?! She’s motivated. She WANTS to learn. Actually, she hardly ever stops asking questions, which gets kind of annoying, but what can you do?

I feel like I can confidently say, ‘There are very few things you actually need to TEACH a child.’ Look at babies and toddlers. In most scenarios, you would never need to teach a child how to walk, talk, run and play. They just do it. So, why would a loved and supported child stop learning naturally at a certain age? They’ll continue learning whatever they need to at an age appropriate pace.

If a child is provided a safe, rich learning environment (and that environment can look radically different to another child’s learning environment), that child is going to learn. If the child is supported through his or her mistakes in learning, that kid is not going to be scared of making mistakes and they will eventually try even harder to solve a problem (or give up if their efforts are truly fruitless). If a child’s emotional and physical needs are being met, that kid is going to fill that little ‘empty mind vessel‘ with more things than YOU can even keep up with. If a child is given a decent enough environment for learning, you would actually have to try and STOP that child from learning.

Whenever I get all ‘teachy‘ on my daughter, she gets annoyed. It’s funny. She knows what I’m up to. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with doing the teacher teachy thing, and there’s nothing wrong with schools, even very traditional teaching has its place. But, what I’ve learned in the past year or so, about teaching and learning is something I never had the opportunity to experience in a classroom. I have such a deeper trust in my daughter’s ability to find her own way. In her own time and in her own fashion. All I need to do is stand close and provide a few props or answer a few questions along the way. She does the rest. The photos I’ve included of the things she did in the past few days are just a few of the schooly things she’s come up with, through no prompting of my own.

Facilitating learning rather than teaching is so fun and EASY! Yes, it requires so much less effort than teaching. If you just give kids the right time and the right support, they learn whatever it is they need to, in no time at all. Even if a child goes to school, they can still be offered plenty of unstructured, self-directed learning time either in school or at home. (Ahem, teachers stop giving homework, so kids can play).

It’s funny that the concept I looked so hard for in school, was something I only found once I stepped outside of the classroom!

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