As parents we are our children’s first teachers. If you consider the implications of this statement, its weight can seem overwhelming. It’s a big deal, but what if I told you that the solution to this seemingly overwhelming problem was one tool you probably already have? Teachable moments are the single most powerful tool in your parenting toolbox, you just need to know how to use it!
I’m an educator and I had six years of experience under my belt by the time I had my first child. Needless to say I thought I was well qualified to be her first teacher. I had experience from toddler up to 4th grade, I felt pretty confident that I knew what I was doing, but “being my child’s first teacher” felt like such an enormous responsibility when it came to my own child. After a breath, I took a step back and realized that it wasn’t as scary as it seemed to be.
Teachable Moments: Harnessing Natural Curiosity
When we intentionally spend time and attention with our children, we are drawn into their curiosity. The questions come seemingly out of nowhere while they play and explore. You’ll have experiences like one I had recently.
Allow me to paint a scene for you. It’s a beautiful fall afternoon, it’s been a long day, and we are excited to be going home for some much-needed family time. My four-year-old is in the backseat along with her snoozing baby sister. Em is telling me all about her day at school…all about who she played with, the story they heard, and the science experiment their teacher did.
Then we turn the corner and see the house that has what has become her favorite Halloween decoration – a giant skeleton. On this particular afternoon, that skeleton changes the course of our conversation. She stops telling me about her day and asks, “Mom, can you become a skeleton?” After a longer-than-usual pause I say, “Ummm well…kinda…” hoping that she would settle upon another subject or return to telling me about school. She didn’t. After an awkward conversation about when one might become a skeleton and how no, you can’t really “heal up” from death, she finally changes the subject. Next, she asks, “Mom, is the sky in space?” With my four-year-old it really never ends.
Children are naturally curious. From birth, they are learning at every step, every moment. Astrophysicist Niel Degrasse Tyson shared what I consider the most important piece of advice for parents about learning in his talk “How to Raise Smarter Children.”
Thinking Like Your Child
When we get out of our adult mindsets and allow ourselves to think like our children, then we discover the key – teachable moments. Authentic teachable moments are not planned, they simply happen.
One afternoon last spring there was a thunderstorm. It wasn’t one of those crazy Texas-sized things, but the type of thunderstorm that one finds relaxing. I decided that it would be a great time to learn. We opened the garage door, remained mostly under the roof, and learned a great deal in about ten minutes.
In addition to learning about asking questions and finding our answers, we learned:
- how to be safe during a thunderstorm (“thunder means under” was our mantra)
- how water flows down a hill
- how to count between a lightning flash and a thunderclap to determine how far away the storm is
- it can rain sideways (and why it does!)
- splashing in puddles is fun!
Finding Authentic Teachable Moments
The good news about teachable moments is that once you learn to recognize authentic opportunities for learning throughout your day, you’ll see them everywhere!
- Go to the farmers market: meet the farmer that grew the food, try some new fruits and veggies, and learn about seasonality of produce
- Take a walk: talk about plants you see, take along an empty egg carton for treasures (no living creatures, and I usually only allow the kids to pick up leaves, etc that have already fallen)
- Get in the kitchen together: heck, even if you make instant pudding (the first thing I made with E), you can still talk about temperature and texture as it thickens
- Bathtime: this is a perfect time to have those super-important conversations about body parts (real names only please) and bodily autonomy
- Driving anywhere: talk about safety, direction, speed
- Cleaning/Chores: responsibility, germs, respect for things, organizational skills (categorization)
These are just a few ideas, I know you can come up with more! I’d love to hear them. Share your ideas and experiences in the comments!