Private Learning

We were playing with story cubes yesterday evening when Immy rolled a picture of a lock and exclaimed “oh I know the perfect story, I’ve already made it up, I just never told anyone before” and although on some level I’d always known that I wouldn’t be privy to everything my children did or thought nor would I want to be this made it glaringly clear that there was a whole lot going on that I wasn’t able to observe if I hadn’t been invited. And it is an important concept when you are thinking about a person’s learning I think, sometimes learning isn’t obvious and loud but quiet and personal.

Learning as an adult, I get to choose that which I actively share, I’m not forced into constantly demonstrating my knowledge. Sure there are things that people could observe improvement of, say if I cooked the same dish a few times or I was more consistently hitting the ball during casual tennis as time went on but those who noticed wouldn’t generally be passing judgement about this and if they were in a way that made me uncomfortable, I could remove myself from the situation. Many children do not have these same options and I’m not sure why we think that is okay.

Much like my daughter, a few years ago I wrote a novella that I have never shared and the thought of being forced to do so, of being forced to endure somebody assessing it for evidence of learning and competency is terrifying and more than that, that experience was worthwhile to me, I know that I gained skills and perspectives, probably many that could not be measured objectively and to have people try to would feel very diminishing and completely unnecessary. Why should somebody else’s opinion of my growth be more meaningful and relevant than my own?

How many times have you noticed your child could do something you hadn’t realised they’d learnt yet? This happens to me constantly. I could try and piece together how each moment came to be in hindsight and reasonably guess some of the things that led to it but however it came to be, it was something they were figuring out, piece by piece, in the background; a process of their own. Whether I know my child can do something or not doesn’t change the fact that they can. If a child learns to read in a forest and no-one is around to assess it does it make a sound?

I was thinking about all of this as I watched Aubrey throwing a balloon. The higher she threw it, the more unpredictable it’s path became and it started making sense; the bigger a fire, the more unpredictable. The more space you give a child, the more unpredictable. Better to check in along the way right? Just so you can make sure it doesn’t veer too far off course… oh wait, hold up, whose course? Is it ours to define? Even to observe something is to alter it and I think we need to be mindful of our influences lest they become unintentioned. It’s unpredictable because your amplifying the possibilities; the places the balloon can travel, the spaces the fire can inhabit. And realising that suddenly makes it seem much less scary because to be honest, that’s exactly how I want it to be.

Is constantly testing a child’s knowledge really for their benefit or our reassurance? And is reassurance really more important than their right to privacy? Their right to decide when they are ready and willing to share.

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  1. So true. My daughter often surprises me with knowledge she’s quietly acquired that I know I had not taught her. In those moments I know that her own curiousity will always drive her to learn what she’s interested in. With more space I give her the more varied her interests as she has the freedom to explore her interest for as long as she wants before she moves on. Being aware of what is happening I enjoy observing and leave her be.

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