Tot School is fun.
Montessori-inspired trays, sensory tubs, and books are fun.
Planning activities and spending focused time with our children is fun.
Steering them towards learning through educational play is fun.
But when it comes down to it, we must always remember that the best teacher of all is life itself. As parents, our job is to guide our little ones, but to also never forget that children are born to be self-teaching little explorers. We set up the conditions in their environment to encourage the acquisition of all the skills and character traits we hope to see in them, but it is ultimately their drive to know, their curiosity, and their interests that will naturally lead to the best outcome in learning.
In other words, experience is the best teacher.
It’s true for us grown-ups and it’s true for our children.
And every day is a new day of experiences. That means every day is filled with countless opportunities that we didn’t plan to slip in a lesson and help our children develop a greater understanding of the world around them.
I want to share a series of circumstances in our recent lives that had nothing at all to do with homeschooling or organized plans of any sort, and yet fostered so much learning.
Lately, Rocket has been extremely interested in the way batteries work.
He has been so fascinated by batteries that he even struck up a conversation with a stranger at the store about the AA batteries he saw for sale in line.
There have been quite a few electronic items around our home with dead or dying batteries and that has meant quite a few sessions of changing batteries with my right-hand man at my side, wide-eyed and full of questions. He’s helped me change the batteries for his keyboard, Dad’s shower radio, his Laugh & Learn Piggy Bank, and Songbird’s baby swing. With such a variety of items, he has learned the difference between AAA batteries, AA batteries (which he so adorably calls W A batteries), and C batteries.
I love that light in his eyes that turns on when he takes a real interest in something and things start clicking inside. It is that aha moment that happens when someone is leveling up in knowledge and seeing the bigger picture for the first time. They are filled with revelation and it radiates outward.
Discovering an item with dead batteries, something that is typically a disappointment to us desensitized adults, has become such a joyful thing for him because it means we can determine what type of batteries we need, take out the screwdriver, throw away the old batteries, locate the positive and negative sides of the batteries, insert the new batteries, and best of all- see the items come to life again! This process that we adults have come to know as an annoying inconvenience is filled with magic and discovery to young minds. How rewarding it is to solve a problem.
Sometimes we adults are in such a rush, it’s important to remember that much of what has become second nature to us is fresh and exciting to our children. We just have to take the time to show them. His interest has forced me, in a good way, to slow down and appreciate the wonder of electricity.
And all this battery changing was just the introduction in his life class of Electronics 101.
On Wednesday, I was putting away clothes in the bedroom when Rocket came running in, toy phone in hand, and asked, “Why is Scout talking in Spanish?” Scout is the name of the dog character from various LeapFrog products. I started to say that he probably switched it to the Spanish setting, but I stopped myself after remembering that this toy doesn’t have a Spanish setting.
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
He pushed a button – the voice spoke fast and indiscernibly. You know… that broken robot voice. I took the phone from him to examine it further and it was then that I saw water drops on it.
As he waited for an answer, I tried to think of the best way to handle this situation. He had clearly dipped his phone in the “trout stream” I had set up in the schoolroom for our book theme on The Runaway Bunny. I knew there was a learning opportunity hidden in this wet, “Spanish-speaking” Scout. So I explained to him what happens when electronics meet water. While these were things we’ve told him before, it took this firsthand experience for him to really learn it.
He can now tell you why things with batteries and chords must never touch water... unless they are water-proof like Dad’s shower radio.
He now understands that electronics can break when touched by water and more importantly, that they can even be dangerous to us. I feel relieved that my son was able to learn this valuable lesson at the cost of a broken toy rather than something more serious (like electrocution).
There was no need for a punishment, a raised voice, or even communicating disappointment of any kind to him. I just calmly went on folding the clothes as I explained how water destroys electronic devices. It was his own toy, so the consequence of his own action occurred naturally.
He threw the phone in the trash without me telling him what needed to be done. It has been a week and he still remembers the incident clearly. “I put my phone in the water and it doesn’t work anymore,” he still tells us, even today. He has mentioned this to others as well. Sometimes in the middle of playing, he stops what he’s doing and ponders what happened with his toy phone. It was obviously a big event in the life of a 2.5 year old!
A week before this event, I had dropped my own phone on the concrete driveway and it shattered. Recalling this, Rocket said, “Mommy’s phone broke because she dropped it on the ground and my phone broke because I put it in the water.” It is in those moments- when he connects 2 separate events in his mind- that I can see learning happening right before my eyes.
To drive the lesson on electronics and water a bit further, a couple of days ago we were struck by a heavy rain. It had only just begun pouring when we noticed his toy electric drill was still outside. I rescued it and as Rocket kept questioning whether it still worked or not, I told him that wet electronics must be turned off immediately and dried before being turned on again.
The next morning, he eagerly rushed to the toy drill and helped me check to make sure it was completely dry. When we saw that it was, I put all the pieces back together again and we tried it out- IT WORKED!
He was delighted.
“The drill still works!” He exclaimed.
“Yes, we got it out of the rain before it could get too wet,” I told him.
“But my phone is broken because I put it in the water,” he observed. Then after a moment of thought, he added, “But that’s okay. I learned a lesson. Did I learn 2 lessons?” He asked, pointing at the drill.
“Why, yes. I think you did.” I said.
Thank you, life, for all your lessons. I can’t wait to see what you’ll teach us next!
And I do mean us.