Saturday, July 9, 2011

I Am Not My Child's Teacher

This is an updated version of the original post, published in March 2011...

My children are four and two years old. By now, they have both learned how to talk, walk, run, jump, climb, make jokes, dance, and do a bunch of other things. But I won't say "I taught them" how to do these things.

When our son turned one, he was crawling very fast, and pulling himself up to stand. So I thought it would only be a matter of days or weeks before he was running around on two feet. I was looking forward to this because he was getting very heavy for me to be carrying and holding whenever the ground wasn't ideal for crawling. When a couple of months went by and he wasn't walking yet, I thought maybe he needed some encouragement. I would stand him up next to a push toy, or hold my arms out just beyond his reach when he was standing up holding onto something. But it quickly became very clear that he just wasn't ready yet.

I am grateful that it was around this time I started reading about natural learning. I learned the theory that kids don't need to be taught how to do things, because they will learn what they need when they are ready. I backed off. No more teaching my son how to walk. I got more comfortable answering the question, He's not walking yet? with something like Why would he want to do that when he can crawl so fast?

It was a few more months before my son started showing an interest in walking. One day, he started walking around with those push toys that he had previously ignored. He walked laps around the house. Then, when he was ready, he let go. And just like that, he was walking. I made a mental note to remember this process, so I could remind myself that he learned it when he was ready. When I was ready for him to walk, I took his hands and tried to walk him around. His legs would get like wet noodles. When he was ready, HE took MY hands so I could help him. It was only then that his legs were solid. He was determined.

I watched my daughter go through a similar process with learning to write her name. When she first started writing, she would write the letters of her name randomly placed, anywhere on the page. She wrote some of the letters upside down or backwards, but no one corrected her.

Then one day, she handed me a piece of paper with her name written perfectly. She just figured it out. Without asking, without anyone telling her. Just based on seeing her name written in other places, and making the connection between that and her own writing.

Even though my husband and I plan not to send our children to school, I do not think of myself as their teacher. I won't be deciding when they are ready to learn things. I will keep our lives full of "push toys" so they can practice things on their own when they choose. And most importantly, I will be there when they want to take my hands and lead me somewhere.


  1. Great Post. As a brand new Mommy myself I can say that I am learning more from my almost 3 month old each day than I think I will ever teach him. Lets talk about Boobs for a minute: Henry came out ready to breastfeed. He latched instantly and all I had to do was take my fully ridiculously large nipple and offer it up. He did the work, I provided the goods. It's still that way. I had no idea what I was doing, but luckily he did. He taught me how to feed him.

    I know his synapses are firing at a remarkable pace and he truly is learning hundreds of new things each day, but so am I. I am learning about him, myself, my husband, the world around us and even the dog. All of the things that we are learning are invisible, incredible and too hard to articulate. I think Henry says it best with a smile and a coo.

    As for when he will learn to walk? Not too sure. He's huge so I guess he will have to let me know when he's ready. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. I love your last lines, thx for sharing I will remember these lines :
    I won't be pushing them to learn things before they are ready. And I won't be deciding when they are ready. I will keep our lives full of "push toys" so they can practice things on their own when they choose. And most importantly, I will be there when they want to take my hands and lead me somewhere.
    Fernanda, NY

  3. I loved reading this. You are going to have so much fun watching your children learn.

  4. I think one of the biggest misconceptions about school is that kids need to be taught in order to learn...and that the person who does that is their "teacher." Teachers must be specially trained. Then it stands to reason that the biggest misconception about homeschooling is that the parent or parents have to fill that role as "teacher." This untruth being illustrated by the often heard disclaimer: "I could NEVER homeschool" OR "I wanted to homeschool but my child and I have such personality differences that he/she could not/ would not learn from me/be taught by me.... I usually just smile and nod but occasionally, I take the time to explain that I believe that EVERY person and situation in life is a teacher .....and NOT because they are sitting us down and imparting a much needed "lesson" ....just because they provide us with the materials for learning and for self-mastery. Don't get me wrong, I love teachers... Had many special and favorite ones growing mom and stepdad were teachers. Sometimes teachers are helpful in learning particular subject matter. The difference is that I think we should all have the freedom to seek or find our own teachers. Whoever and whatever they may be.

  5. Thanks for bringing back the memories of my youngest learning to write. <3 He used to write it: MROTS We loved it and I really miss it, now. :~)

  6. @De, That is such a sweet memory. I can't wait to watch the process again with my son. :)