By guest author J. Aaron Gruben
You’ve been to the conference. You’ve worked out your lesson plans. You’ve begun another successful year of homeschooling your child! Great job.
But remember: don’t stop teaching when the lesson’s done. Thousands of unplanned, teachable moments come our way as parents, little chances to either reinforce a concept from formal lessons or teach something completely new. And in the right setting, a few minutes of unexpected conversation can teach more than hours of formal bookwork! You might call it spontaneous schooling, opportunistic education, or informal learning. Whatever you call it, it’s well worth mastering.
God commended this teaching method of homeschooling in Deuteronomy 11:19. “Teach them to your children, speaking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”
When do we teach our kids God’s ways? All the time!
Why are spontaneous, teachable moments so powerful for homeschoolers?
- Teachable moments happen as we spend our free time with our children. As homeschooling parents, we are privileged with more total hours to spend with our kids. This equals more teachable moments. We find more chances to shape our kids the more time we spend with them.
- Teachable moments are an effective way to teach. Spontaneous lessons are effective because they’re grounded in real life. They happen as topics come up in your child’s experience and solidify concepts, creating a holistic and practical sort of education. Taking advantage of an unplanned, teachable moment for your child is the equivalent of “learning by living.” That’s why these moments are particularly useful for those concepts most important to Christian teachers: building strong character and strong faith. “Hey look! Did you see how much trouble that guy got into by lying? That’s just one reason we always tell the truth.” But these moments certainly aren’t limited to character concepts; they offer potent ways to reinforce more scholastic topics too. “Hey look! The speedometer says our car is driving 40 mph. So, how far will we drive if we keep going down the road at this speed for 30 minutes?”
- Teachable moments make good use of emotions. Teaching spontaneously leverages your child’s emotions to maximize long-term learning. Psychologists have long noted that emotions play a strong role in what we remember, especially long term. What you teach your child when emotions are high (good feelings or bad ones) is what they’re more likely to remember. Your child may well recall what you randomly tell them during a fun outing long after textbook concepts fade from their brains.
As a warning, this means we often inadvertently teach our children things we don’t want to. A bad example or poorly chosen words in the heat of anger can undo carefully planned teaching, especially where character is concerned.
This could all be disheartening or overwhelming. But don’t be discouraged! Be encouraged to grab those fleeting moments and purposefully use them to solidify what your child should know. Do not use the power of spontaneous teaching as an excuse to ditch the work of creating great lesson plans though. You still need the discipline of formal teaching to give your child the building blocks of a good education.
How do we leverage these spontaneous teachable opportunities?
- Learn to notice. Most teachable moments are botched simply because we don’t see them. Expect the unexpected. Try to live on the lookout for chances to teach your kids.
- Don’t be shy. Snatch up the chances when you see them. Sometimes we choose to ignore great teachable moments because we’re too tired, too busy, or too worried our children will think of us as lame adults.
- Be flexible. To leverage a teaching opportunity you didn’t plan you must be willing to stop everything and talk. It’s worth it! Teaching your kids is one of the most important jobs you have. Nobody (including you) will care about your work review five years from now. But what you teach your kids now will matter beyond your lifetime.
- Be the expert. Know what your children like and use that to tailor outings and activities. Know their strengths and weaknesses: which concepts they have a good grasp on, and which ones they still need to learn. Use that to hone in on chances to work on what they need most.
- Share free time. Don’t spend every minute of your day focused on tasks, even if they’re good. Take time out for fun with your kids–and enjoy it.
Be alert, be strategic. If you’re ready and willing to use them, those spontaneous teachable moments outside schoolwork can shape your child’s future. It’s where concepts become real for them. This is how we mold great personalities. This is how we build the next generation!
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