Teach Like a New Mom

26 Apr


Smiling_baby, from Flickr

Smiling_baby, from Flickr

Today I found myself once again praising my infant daughter for something she hadn’t actually accomplished:

“Look at that smile!  It’s almost there!  It’s 50% there, can you try for 60%?  Is it a little bigger?  You can do it!  Show me that smile!”  The day is filled with exclamations over her attempts and approximations.

Can you imagine doing that with a teenager, or an adult?  Probably not.

When children are very small, we observe them closely for every developmental milestone, and we praise every effort they make effusively.  That switches at some point, probably around the time they enter school.  Then, buffeted by external expectations, state standards, and peer-to-peer comparisons, it becomes more about what children can’t do than what they can do or are close to doing.  “She doesn’t know all of her letters,”  “He can’t keep his hands to himself,”  “They don’t comprehend what they read.”

What if we returned to “new mom” status in the way we teach?  New parents automatically engage highly effective techniques to teach their small children.

1) New parents observe their children closely.

New parents watch their babies for every tiny developmental growth.  Is she holding her head up for a few moments longer?  Is his gaze more directly focused on people?  Is she grasping objects deliberately now?  Teaching is most effective when it’s targeted at a child’s zone of proximal development–or aimed exactly at a level just above what he or she is doing independently.  To be that targeted, you have to closely observe children to know what they’re doing on their own, and what they could accomplish with just a little push.

2) New parents are strengths-based.

New parents look for what their son or daughter is accomplishing or attempting.  Instead of saying, “She’s not crawling,”  a new parent says, “look at you, pushing up on your arms and rocking back and forth!  You can do it baby, you can come forward!”  Instead of telling a student or older child, “Your essay is choppy,” we might try, “You have a lot of information and facts in your essay!  Now you can add in some transition words to help it flow.”

3) New parents allow children to practice.

I’ve yet to meet the parent of a baby who would say, “I showed her how to roll over once and she’s still not doing it.  I already taught that!”  Parents know small children need to see and practice new skills over and over again until they become automatic.  If a child can’t do something, it’s not because he was lazy or not paying attention, it’s because he needs more time and help.  That doesn’t change as children grow older.  Teaching a student how to paragraph an essay just once is like trying to show a baby how to walk in an hour–unlikely to be successful!

Parents help children learn social skills, academic skills, and physical skills.  They do it by teaching children in a way that comes naturally, without the pressure of high-stakes testing or pay-for-performance.  And they do it well.

2 Responses to “Teach Like a New Mom”

  1. tric April 26, 2014 at 2:59 pm #

    And an experienced parent says “who’s that running around? OMG that’s my baby, when did she start walking!” I do get what you’re saying though.

    • elizabethstavis April 26, 2014 at 5:11 pm #

      Oh yeah, parents also forget their babies in cars and lose them in malls–no one’s perfect :). But you do tend to notice more about your own child than about other’s children.

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