Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Art of Teachable Moments

Have you heard of “quality time” from the 1980s?  There was a myth that if you weren’t spending enough time with your child, you could make up for it by orchestrating special, “quality” experiences with them.  We thought it was a silly idea from the start.  We recognized that we wouldn’t always spend as much time with our children as we’d like, even with Becky staying at home, so instead of pursuing “quality time,” we looked for opportunities to seize what we called teachable moments.  Teachable moments are times, however long or short, when the child is curious and receptive to being taught or trained.  Teachable moments are determined by the child, not fabricated by the parent.  You can provide an environment conducive to teachable moments, but you can’t force them to happen.
There are several ways to foster teachable moments, and several places where we consistently discover teachable moments.  We find many of our teachable moments when we are alone with one child; on a walk or bike ride, driving, eating in a restaurant, tucking them into bed, or working together on a project or task around the house.  Remember that you can plan time alone together, but if the child is tired or emotional, they won’t be teachable.  Some of our best teachable moments have come while driving one of our kids to a social, sports, or music event, because they didn’t have to compete with the other siblings.  The kids are more teachable when they aren’t distracted by, or competing with, siblings, parents, or friends, but not all teachable moments are one-on-one.  We’ve had many teachable moments around the dinner table, playing in the yard, driving on trips together, or squashed into a hotel room on a vacation.  If you’re not sure what a teachable moment looks like, borrow someone’s 6th grade boy for 20 minutes, listen to everything they say, and answer their questions with as much depth as you can – 6th grade is the maddening time when children have an unquenchable curiosity about absolutely everything, but lack the social graces to keep most of it to themselves.
Teachable moments can involve physical training, like how to throw a football, hammer a nail, or play a chord.  They can be academic, moral, or social learning opportunities. Teachable moments are not lectures, they are conversations or practice activities.  They often start with a child’s question, and are more about understanding and encouraging the child than they are about driving home the parent’s point.  Teachable moments are a chance to train the child in how to think or do something for themselves, with some guidance and clarification from the parent.  A well used teachable moment will endear your child to you like no other activity can, but they are rare, special and elusive, so you have to grab them when you see them.