He was born with a natural curiosity. From the time he was a little boy, he was exploring, finding, observing, discovering, creating, and learning about his world. His curiosity propelled him to learn things by observing and interacting with his environment and he conquered woods and streams, oceans and backyards.
Of course he liked to get all the toys and sports equipment that little boys like. But he’d request things like a chemistry set, a telescope or a microscope when asked what he wanted for his birthday or Christmas. Another request was a rock polisher. His grandparents and I were happy to accommodate for we saw that zest for learning in this little boy.
He’d lead his brothers like a general contractor to build forts and tree houses. He had a bug collection and knew the names of countless insects. We had bike trails and ramps meandering through our woods from the time he got his first plastic Little Tykes shovel and yellow dump truck.
When he was around eight years old, he announced to me that he was going to dig a pond. I got him a shovel and some other tools but hoped that he wouldn’t be too disappointed when he realized that it would just be too hard for him. (We lived in an area where the dirt was incredibly hard and difficult to dig.) Oh ye (me!)of little faith! I was amazed when he and his brothers and friends (the brothers and friends who he had rallied to help him dig) called me out to the backyard to show me the hole for the pond. It was about 7 feet long and 2 1/2 feet deep!!
We enjoyed the beauty of that pond for years after that. I just smile at the persistence of a young boy whose vision and hard work made our world a more beautiful place. We enjoyed polished rocks from his rock polisher and are still enjoying drawings and paintings that he created. He was curious, learned, and then created based on his observations and experience.
I say all of that to say this in response to the prompt. I so believe we can be taught so very many things, by others, by ourselves. (It’d be a tragic thing if I didn’t because I am a teacher!). But, that being said I also believe that there are some things that impact our learning that are more intrinsic and can either be a catalyst or a deterrent to learning. Some things are more caught than taught. My son’s curiosity was all him. He was born with that and it motivated him to learn all he could about the amazing world around him! As his mom, I could foster that and provide him with opportunities to whet that appetite for learning, but bottom line, his motivation to learn trumped anything external in his environment.
William Butler Yeats said, “Education is not the filling of a bucket but the lighting of a fire.” Good teachers help whet that curiosity for learning. Little Johnny may have trouble reading, but has very little incentive to try if the subject matter bores him. But if he’s reading about bugs or baseball or something that appeals to him, his motivation will be so much greater!
Would that our education system would slow down with all of the regulation that keeps teachers up to their necks in paperwork, and get back to the foundational aspects of actively learning about the world around us. Sitting in desks by its very nature is passive, and I believe we so need to once again tap in to the hands on experience which motivates students to not only learn subject matter, but increases their skills in applying what they’ve learned.
So here’s the thing. Being taught is passive in its terminology, if not in practice. Good teachers help the student to actively pursue learning, rather than passively sit back and be taught. They “light a fire” and give students a picture of the incredible impact of applying what we learn. They take them outside and show them the bug and then they will be motivated to read about it. And when the task is accomplished, the text is read,and the questions are answered, the student will have a sense of ownership at what has been accomplished! (When they see that bug they will be able to tell their little friends all about it!)
Who knows what could happen in our educational system if we would tap in to the natural curiosity of our children and help them apply what they have learned to impact their world. Ponds, polished rocks, and paintings…projects of our youth make the world a more beautiful place for sure! When teaching and learning are active pursuits and privileges rather than passive requirements, the beauty and the benefits could spread like wildfire in our homes, schools, and communities.
I’m thankful for the little guy in the photos. He’s still creating and impacting our world, but he’s now a young man. I’m thankful for the lessons he taught me about teaching and learning. They were far more valuable to me as a teacher than some that I learned in my college courses. Like I said, some of the best lessons are learned by experience, and this little guy? He was a good teacher!