Help Your Child Learn More By Saying Less | exSTEMsions

Help Your Child Learn More By Saying Less

Sometimes it's hard to stay quiet...

I’m going to be up front with you and admit that maybe I, like many people, have a tendency to want to control the world around me in ways that are actually out of my control. This leads to one of the things that I find most difficult about being a parent: letting my kids do things their way.  Imagine watching your child do something - maybe homework - where you know a way that could just make this all so much easier for them, if only they would just listen to you. I have this happen to me all the time. And the hardest, but often most useful, thing that I can do in these situations is to be mostly quiet, and let them figure it out, while offering small bits of guidance to help them keep on track.

...but staying (mostly) quiet can help kids learn

What??  Yes. Be quiet, or as quiet as you can possibly be, while ensuring their process doesn’t go totally off the rails. Really. As a teacher, I have the gift of knowing things that are helpful to me as a parent (even when I don’t like them). One of the things I know is that kids need to find their way to efficiency somewhat on their own. They need to learn to do things themselves, and as a parent, I need them to learn to do it themselves. You and I can’t do all the work for them - that’s not learning. We accept that you, as an adult, are more efficient at solving problems, yes.  But you are efficient now because at some point in your past you struggled through something, and found, after repeated attempts, how to do that thing more efficiently, and more accurately. Your kids have to do the same.

When should you speak up?

I’m not saying that you can’t ever offer assistance. I know for sure that the right assistance, at the right time, can be super helpful. But I also know that offering too much, or changing what your child is trying to do too drastically, can lead to confusion and frustration.  So, how do you choose what to say, and when to say it? When one of my kids is trying to solve something, before I weigh in, I think about the following:

  1. If I leave them alone, will they likely work through the issue and figure it out, or are they just going to get further and further bogged down?
  2. Can I offer a suggestion that’s in line with their current way of thinking, or only shifts it a little, like gently steering into another lane on the highway, or would my suggestion require a full u-turn?
  3. Is the suggestion I have to offer one that is more about how I prefer to solve problems, or am I actually offering a tool or idea that will be helpful to them in a variety of situations?  

Giving guidance, not solutions

If I take a minute and think through these questions, many times I realize that if I let them be, they’re going to get it. Sometimes, the idea I have would be far too big of a change for them to make (or maybe is an idea they aren’t quite ready for), or that I really just like the way I would solve the problem better than what they are doing. Considering the above questions helps me become a better guide for my kids, ensuring that during my kids’ learning they are the ones working hardest (rather than me!).  Then, the help I do offer has a better chance of actually being helpful. (And that’s the key to student centered teaching: students learning for themselves as much as possible, so the teachers aren’t doing the thinking for the students.)

The next time you feel yourself getting ready to direct how your child is solving something, take a second and just think about what you’re about to offer. See if you can find a way to turn directions into gentle guidance. Both you and your kids will appreciate the results.

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Mathematical Thinking
Learning with Children