To Teach or To Let Learn

It occurred to me, during our walk through the caves in the  Polar Caves Park in  New Hampshire, that long ago, I had made an assumption that Robert was not capable to learn on his own.  I assumed, without ever admitting it to myself , that  any new information or skill had to be forced, tricked, or infused into his brain by some form of teaching.

Although not once I noticed that Robert had learned many things through  observations, without any kind of instruction, I still acted as if Robert knew only that what he was taught.  This assumption probably motivates me to teach him any way I can and whenever and wherever I detect a learning  opportunity.

At least one hour of our three hours long trip to White Mountains we spent on practicing long vowels sounds.  Surprisingly, many native English speakers, and that includes many teachers, don’t realize that long “a”, “i” or “o” sounds are made of two different sounds,  Robert tends to neglect that second sound.   He also has a tendency to omit the ending consonants.  As we drove,  Robert was repeating after me  long words and short phrases as they related to what we saw outside.

MountaiN,  Speeeeeeed Limit, Streeeeeeet SiiiiiiigN,  GreeeeN grass, Whiiiiiite ClOUds,  motorcycle (with counting syllables).  We repeated these and other words many times.

Practicing in the car is easier than working at the dinning room table. The opportunities to escape are limited.  There is nothing else to do but look outside and “talk” about what we see.

When we walked up the stairs of Flume Gorge, I did not teach, as I was busy  climbing up and keeping the pace with Jan and Robert.  The teaching restarted during the walk down the path.  We differentiated between broad-leaf and conifer trees, we read names of the plants attached to bright orange ribbons.  My main effort, however, went toward teaching Robert the concept of the “middle”.

I have the fear of heights and of poison ivy.  On the left side of the path there was a ridge, on the right there were plants. At least one of them looked as if it could be a poison ivy.  Naturally, I wanted Robert to walk in the middle.  As basic as it seems, this is a concept Robert is not exactly understanding despite a lot of attempts on my part to familiarize him with it.

I asked Robert to stretch his arms from time to time  and keep as far from the left as he was from the right.    It seemed to work at least  as long as nobody else was on the trail to disturb the clarity of space.

After lunch we drove to Polar Caves Park.

I was too busy  protecting  my head from bumping into rocks and my  feet from slipping on the wet stones to teach Robert anything.  He did not need teaching.  He observed his dad and followed his lead.  Only once, when Robert climbed  down the metal ladder and reached the cave before his dad, he became anxious.  He made a noise of distress.  When Jan reclaimed the leadership position, Robert calmed down and bending down or moving to the side followed his dad through narrow and low passages.  Luckily they were rather short.

I walked behind Robert, and couldn’t help but wonder to what degree my “teaching” might  interfere with his “learning”.

At that moment, I also realized, that many times, as Robert “explored” new places on his own, I immediately interfered  afraid he would do something inappropriate.  Many times, I placed myself between Robert and “the world” playing the role of an interpreter as if Robert could not make sense of the world on his own.

While I more or less know what I have taught Robert, I don’t have any idea to what degree my constant presence  has hindered his ability to learn independently.

And that is a reason for concern.

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