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3.14 screamfree learning
March 14, 2016

Teaching Our Kids How to Learn

“Too often we give children answers to remember, rather than problems to solve.”
(Roger Lewin)

My son, a sophomore in high school, asked me for help with a school project yesterday. It wasn’t Chemistry or Pre-Cal, ‘cos he knows he passed my knowledge in those areas years ago. No, this was Psychology—a topic I know something about.

After about 20 minutes, however, I think I wished we were trying Chemistry. Why? Because my expert knowledge in Psychology made me a terrible tutor. Maybe I wanted to show off in front of my young man. Maybe I got caught up in the anxiety cloud that surrounds the college competition culture, where we’re more interested in getting them accomplished on paper than we are in helping them learn how to learn. For whatever reason, I watched myself give him answers, and I watched him grow more helpless each time I did so.

Have you ever noticed this process? You intervene too much in your kids’ schoolwork, and then you watch them seem to get lazier, and more ignorant, as you proceed?

This is not a figment of our imagination; it’s a reflection of an ancient principle: Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll never go hungry again. The same is true for our children. We don’t like to see our kids struggle, and we love to see them do well. When our child is battling with a puzzle, a math problem, or even a socially sticky situation, we tend to want to jump in and give them the “right” answer. Many times, this is the worst thing we can do.

Instead of being our child’s answer key, let’s become a sounding board. Let’s not make statements; let’s just ask questions. We should expect some resistance at first, but we can persevere and we have to; their problems are just going to get harder.

Our hope is not to create a shiny, accomplished shell of a student; our hope is to create the type of person who relishes the challenge of solving things on his own.


screamfree hal runkel


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