Aiding the Child’s Self-Teaching Without Coercion.
Learning is the accomplishment of a cognitive improvement: either new knowledge or a new skill. All improvements are accomplished for the sake of the better pursuit of ends. In educating your child, never force her to acquire an improvement that is for the sake of an end that is not yet her own. Never give the lame teacher excuse of, “Just trust me, this will come in handy later.” The child should never have to try to acquire a new improvement (knowledge or a skill) only for the sake of the end of appeasing you or anyone else. That will only elicit grudging study that doesn’t stick, and foster an aversion to the subjects that are forced upon her. And once the need to appease a parent or instructor drops out, so too will the pursuit of study. This is why so few graduates of the American school system become devoted autodidacts once they finally reach the end of the 16-year gauntlet of compulsory scholarship.
Children are natural learners. They hungrily pursue cognitive improvements unbidden from early on. There is no danger in a child not developing a love of learning, so long as they are not trapped in a stimulus-impoverished environment. The true danger is a child having her natural love of learning squashed by having study associated with coercion. As Maria Montessori taught, adults are more likely to impede learning than foster it: especially given the currently reigning backward educational philosophies.
One way that an adult can non-coercively aid, and not obstruct, a child’s self-teaching is as follows. Present subjects to her in a way that inspires her interest: that induces her to develop her own ends with regard to the subject. Then offer to show her new improvements (knowledge and skills) that will help her achieve those ends. Only then will she truly, deeply, and gladly pursue a course of study desired by you for her.
This non-coercive approach to education might be called the “Spark & Fuel Approach.” Instead of forcing the child to acquire improvements for the sake of ends that are not yet her own, you induce her to develop her own ends by sparking her interest in something new. Then you fuel the flame that you sparked, first by directly helping her pursue her new ends, then by indirectly helping her by introducing her to new improvements (knowledge and skills) that, once acquired, will enable her to independently pursue her new ends.
Take learning to write, for example. Don’t put a workbook in front of her, and force her to slog through its exercises. Instead, as one project, start a correspondence between her and one of her older cousins or another pen pal, even before she can write at all. Read to her what her friend has written; make it interesting like you would when reading a story, with humor, commentary, and funny voices.
Then offer to transcribe her response for her, making sure she can see what you’re doing when you handwrite the letter. As long as you’ve previously done your job by not sheltering your child from diverse social situations, your sociable child will leap at the chance; no coercion necessary. This will spark her interest in long-distance, written communication. This will have become an end of her own. This is the “Spark” stage.
Then comes the “Fuel” stage. The flame will grow with every exchange, as the long-distance friendship blossoms. Feed the flame by gradually offering to show her how she can help you write the letter. Children love to mimic beloved adults, so again, she will leap at the chance, after having watched you compose so many letters; even if it’s just to, at first, write a single word. Again, no coercion necessary.
Eventually, as she gets the hang of learning to write, and she sees the bright promise of the independent pursuit of her own goals emerging on the horizon, you can provide her materials (sample letters, books, and yes, even voluntarily-used workbooks), and begin to step back as she teaches herself.
At a certain point, the flame will become a wildfire, expanding so rapidly that it increasingly finds its own fuel, growing ever less dependent on the fuel supplied by you.
This is how you can inspire and nurture your child to help them become a self-driven, curious, passionate, happy human being—not by being her taskmaster, but by being a helpful guide to all the wonderful opportunities that abound in this new world she has found herself in.
Also published at Medium.com: