Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Parenting with Love: Nurturing and Raising Self Directed Learners

I used to post photos / albums of what I do at home when I was homeschooling my daughter on my personal FB page. One question that I get a lot was "how is it that she is not running away and she is staying put to try out and learn?" When I was first asked that, I was quite surprised. Getting the kid to participate in something was really a breeze since she was young. So I was baffled as to why some of my friends have not been successful.

Friends would also ask me how I decide on what to do with her and what to teach / learn.

Caught in the busy-ness of life, I am most embarrassed to say that I did not look into it or delve into it further. Took me some time (a few years!) but I think the answer lies in "curiosity". In short, I do not decide what to teach; I tap on her curiosity to extend the learning and ride on the opportunity to learn together.

In Dumpling’s report book last year, this was shared by the teacher under “remarks”:

“XX is a voracious reader who reads beyond her age… She has a wide general knowledge of things around her and is able to offer fresh perspectives in class.”

Because of this natural curiosity in the kiddo, she has been pretty much a self directed learner most of the time. (Though I must say that she hates rote learning so anything that requires drilling is hard work for us both :p) She prepares for her own “Show and Tell” and it is not uncommon for her to tell me who visited the school for a talk. For e.g a librarian visited the school last year and introduced the children to Sci-Fi which was a "new" genre of book for the kiddo then.  When she got home, she asked me to borrow the book that was shared during the talk (The Search for Wondla) and that started her fascination on a horde of new "reads" from this genre. 

The kiddo would also tell me that activities she wishes to try out / enrol for.(The latest activity that I am suckered into going for is an archery thing, just because “It looks fun! I want to give it a try and see how it works.”) 

While this is not meant as a parenting guide, on hindsight, I think that by being interested and involved in Dumpling's learning, and extending on things she is interested / curious about, I have unintentionally raised a self directed learner.  

So, if you are keen to tap on your child’s natural sense of curiosity, here's 3 “tips” to share:

:: 1. Answer a question with another question :p

From a young age, I do not believe in giving Dumpling the answer. I would instead, answer the question simply with another question. Maybe because I have a curious mind too so I am often “wondering” about things (with the latest being on electricity, dynamo and magnetic fields but that is a post for another day) so I often pique her curiosity by exploring possible answers / questions with her.

What this encourages is for her to think about possible solutions and not to expect to be spoon fed with one. It also encourages her to think of alternatives, to make inferences / hypothesis and to problem-solve. 

Some questions that you can try asking to lead to a greater / more meaningful discussion could be “What do you think?”, “How do you know that?”, “What did you observe?”, “Why do you think that is so?”

:: 2. Projects to explore

To spark her interest, I would often display books, materials, things related to a topical interest on a small table. Children being naturally curious will be drawn to the display and the questions would then start.

Often the activities will be a mix of visual, kinesthetic and hands-on / craft activities and she gets to decide / choose what she wishes to do.  

For e.g. prior to us taking a topic on birds formally (this was about 3 - 4 years back), I noticed that she was curious about some birds and nests we saw when we visited some farms at Kranji. We spotted many many nests being hung from a tree outside a farm. Riding on this curiosity, I hurried to the library to borrow some books on this topic (as well as made some online reservations) and promptly set up our homeschool area with books and activities for her to explore with. Needless to say, she was drawn to it and we had a good few weeks exploring and discussing about this topic every evening. A walk in the parks also allowed us to gather twigs and dead leaves which she chose to use to create her own nest and collage. 

:: 3. Listen and listen again

And this all fundamentally boils down to being observant and listening to your children and picking up on their questions. For e.g. with the kiddo asking about Archery, I may do an informal learning on it. Some questions that I may ask could be: 
  • Where do you think were the bow and arrow invented in?
  • What do you think they were invented for? (Update: being a Katniss Everdeen fan, she said it is used for hunting. Hee hee)
  • What are they made of?
  • Do you think that the materials are specially chosen?
  • What if we were to use XX and YY to make them instead?
  • (While observing an arrow) Why do you think feathers were added? (Update: her actual words "I think the feathers help it fly and with the thrust and kinetic energy, it enables the arrow to go faster." 
  • How do you think it (the feathers) helped?
The questioning is important because it encourages the child to observe and to derive at her / his own answers. Importantly, with questioning (and waiting it out), it allows the child to internalize his thought process to "digest" and understand the concepts / topics learnt. 

Through repeated projects and discussions Dumpling and I had over the years, I came to realise questioning has organically become part of her thought process. Because of that habit, she has developed into a curious learner and hence, takes the ownership in learning where she will ask for help in researching on a topical interest and experiments (which has also started my interest on STEM / STEAM based subscription boxes which I wrote my first post on here). And indirectly, it has also built her interest and knowledge on a wide range of things. 

Before you exit this page, I would like to share this TED video with you on "3 Rules to Spark Learning". I enjoyed this clip (and many other great ones at TED) and I think you will too. :) 

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