Like many others, I am now in the habit of taking a walk each day to get out of the house in a way that adheres to the social distancing guidelines and still being enjoyable. I take the kiddos, Ethan and Andy (and usually one of the dogs too), and we stroll for about a mile through our neighborhood.
On one particular afternoon, I caught myself in a teaching moment with Ethan. Sometimes he likes to run ahead of me on our walks and at this particular moment, we approached an intersection. I am proud to say that as he did so, he stopped and asked if he could go ahead and cross it. When he asked this, I thought to myself, let me turn this into a teaching moment. Of course what I failed to think about was the fact that this was one of the hotter days, nearly 90 degrees, late afternoon, and given that we were toward the end of our walk, we were all already beet red and sweaty. But, of course, I went for it.
“Ethan, what do we need to do first before we cross the street?” He responded, “Look for cars.” And then at that point we worked through how to check both ways and determine whether it was safe to cross. As the sun beat down on us I walked into the intersection asking myself why in the world had I chosen that moment to work on this? It would have been a lot easier to just keep walking and get home. Where was my head? Well, I knew where it was…it was doing what it does as a trained teacher: it was taking advantage of a natural opportunity to impart important information in the moment.
These teaching moments are continually available to us. They allow children to apply and practice skills when they are actually intended to use them. Much like learning to drive a car, at some point you have to put the manual down and turn on the ignition and actually practice driving. It is not enough to simply learn through reading or worksheets.
These in-situ teaching moments allow our kiddos to practice skills when they are actually needed and they allow us to reinforce those efforts. Teaching moments can happen when it is time to put on shoes to go outside, when it is time to get a snack, when a child is making a decision about what to wear, and so on. They can also occur when you are simply doing something fun and want to find a way for the child to join in, such as having a child water plants while you garden, or help wash the vegetables for the salad you are making. When a teaching moment occurs we can choose the fast and easy way of doing the task for the child ourselves, or we can embrace the teaching moment and give the child an opportunity to practice the skill on their own. It is always easier to do the task for a child and sometimes when we attempt a teaching moment, the child may resist. He or she may WANT you to do the task for them. Although this can be challenging, perseverance is key.
For example, let’s say you’re picking up your grandchild for a visit to the park. As you walk into the house to get her, you notice her shoes aren’t on. She is excited to go to the park and so you let her know you can leave as soon as she puts on her shoes. She resists and begins to cry while pulling your hand toward her shoes. You can say, “I know you want me to do this for you but I want to help you do it yourself” while also asking the child to do a portion of the task. It can help to ask the child to do some of the task, not all of it, if this is the first time you are working on the skill together. Perhaps the first step in the shoe example is to simply get the shoes from the closet, or maybe it is to just pull the laces after the shoes are tied, or maybe it is pushing her feet into the shoes while you hold them. It will be helpful to identify a place to start and build from there. What you are teaching the child by doing this is that you support them and will help them build skills just like their parents and teachers do. It is, of course, fine to also find moments to spoil the kiddos … but it helps to balance that with teaching moments. It is so exciting to see a child build their skills, especially when we are the ones supporting them to do so.