What’s your kid’s learning preference? Probably one you hate.

We live across the street from Swarthmore college, which I thought would be amazing, but most things at the university are not open to the community. Still, I walk past the art gallery each week to see if there’s anything new, I always check fliers to find interesting things for the kids. Which the kids always do not want to go to.

I let the kids eat in the college cafeteria whenever we go to an event. The cafeteria is a teenage boy’s dream. We spend an hour there, where I relive my bulimic college days and stress over easy access while my sons pile up trays like they’re a two-man football team.

Last night we went to a dance performance.

My older son said, “What’s that?”

“Like a recital.”

“A dance recital? Who are you?”

“I’m your mom and I want you to get in the habit of seeing cool stuff that people are doing in your community.”

“Yeah. I do that. I check all my YouTube channels every day.”

“Well you don’t look at modern dance.”

“You’re right. You’re so right, Mom. I would really like to know a lot about modern dance. So let’s stay home and watch modern dance videos on YouTube.”

We left at intermission.

I came across a site advertising Ladakh tour packages. First I thought: what is Ladakh? When I saw it is in India I thought: my mom would like this. She likes big adventures, far from home, off the beaten track. I am haunted by all the three-week long trips my mom planned when we were kids.

I am a creature of habit. And I hated three weeks with no plan except to “see what happens.” As I got older I’d think of ways to stay in the hotel room all day. And then I got old enough to never have to go on a frenetic come-what-may sight-seeing trip ever again.

But my mom never slows down. She has gone to India twice. To Egypt. Brazil. No tour packages. My mom is her own package. She used to go with friends but no one can keep up with her. Thinking it was an age thing, she took my niece and nephew to Europe and they couldn’t keep up with her either.

I try hard to want to do what my kids want to do. I watch the shows they watch and they are fun (recommendation for anime-friendly families: Death Note). And play the games they play (I suck at League of Legends but I like hearing the kids talk strategy). But I think the most lonely thing about parenting is not doing stuff I want to do.

My mom’s idea of a great way to learn is to run around seeing new things. My idea of a great way to learn is to sit in a theater. Which is why I have a picture of my kids in great theaters all over the US asking if they can leave at intermission. Each of us knows our favorite way to learn and then we hope our kids like it too. I have to work hard to not recreate my own childhood where my mom assumed everyone wants to learn how she learns.

A key component of my own brand of homeschooling is to make sure my kids take time each day to check in with themselves to decide if they are doing what they want to do with their day. And what I’ve discovered is that homeschooling is letting your kids learn in a way that you can’t stand, because it’s their time to find out what works for them.


22 replies
    • Jessica from Down Under
      Jessica from Down Under says:

      Yes! And just because we are mothers doesn’t mean we should give up on our own learning.

  1. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    The artwork that’s a part of the theater in this photo is amazing. It’s not something you would see in a newly constructed theater. And it’s this artwork and architecture of the theater that adds to the experience of the performance. We have one here in town named The Stanley. It was built in 1928, is very ornate, and has been maintained and upgraded over the years. It’s been a long time since I’ve been there so I don’t want to leave you with the impression I’m a big purveyor of the arts or something like that. I think the last time I went there was when a friend came to visit. What’s sad is I can’t even remember the performance. Oh well. A virtual tour of this beautiful theater is at http://www.thestanley.org/facility/virtual-tour/ . Also, thanks for sharing all the different ways you and members of your family learn and pointing out we all have different learning preferences. Knowing our learning preferences and how we learn best is important as it is part of knowing yourself.

  2. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    I’m back to homeschooling my oldest (who was recently given a GAD diagnosis). Not sure if it’ll be temporary or permanent.

    She plays a lot of video games and watches a ton of YouTube. I give her books to study since that is how I learn. She can memorize what I give to her, but her primary way to learn is through videos. And she thinks studying my way is “boring”. Is this a generational thing??

    For arts and culture I tell my kids it is good to support others even if they don’t want to stay the whole performance. I remind them that people have stayed to watch and listen to their recitals, performances, and plays and they should do the same for others. Even though I secretly wish I was at home in my pjs.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      This is angood question. I think back to when it was unacceptable to quote Wikipedia as a source to older people. And now if my kids say they can’t find an answer that is definitely on Wikipedia I think they’re not really trying to find the answer.

      So this makes me think finding answers is, indeed, generational.


    • Bostonian
      Bostonian says:

      I don’t much believe the idea that a preference for learning through video is a generational difference. I think the generational difference is that the previous generation didn’t have YouTube, etc.

      Educators jumped on the idea of pedagogy through video as soon as it became feasible, generations ago. Remember the hokey educational filmstrips? The change wrought by the internet is that when films and videos were expensive and required specialized equipment not everybody had, educators could act as gatekeepers, and now they can’t anymore.

      Here’s an example: back when I taught college Spanish I loved using Destinos, In 1992, it was brand new, the textbooks were brand new, and the videos were on cassette. No other delivery mechanism was practical. The students would watch the episodes in the classroom, because that’s where the equipment was. Today if language learners want to use Destinos they can watch the episodes over the internet, and when I taught Spanish a couple years ago I assigned the episodes as homework. I’ve also met people teaching themselves Spanish with Destinos, no teacher involved.

      Internet bandwidth provides a democratization of access to the technology of video, and the social change is just logical. If prior generations could have done it they would have. The change we view isn’t a difference in generational preference, but just of access.

      That said, I know from observing my kids that they don’t all find video effective for all learning. For example, my son liked Khan Academy, which is largely video-based, when he was learning simpler math, but now that he’s teaching himself calculus, he only uses books and face-to-face conversations. He doesn’t find videos very effective for this.

      There are serious limitations to videos: it’s hard to find the relevant part, whereas with books you can easily turn the page to the right section. It’s hard to even know whether a video will ever get to the relevant part; you could be five minutes in before you switch it off because it’s never going to get there. Books provide more control to the user in this sense. It’s possible to skim a book, and very difficult to skim a video or podcast; videos impose their pace on you. So maybe people will use video for certain kinds of learning but not others.

      YMKAS, I’m sorry to hear your daughter is dealing with anxiety. Do you think her anxiety was brought on by school, or discovered through school? My son suffered from anxiety and panic attacks his first year back at school (to answer my question, a combination of both). He’s learned how to get through a panic attack now, and it’s interesting how knowing you can get through a panic attack makes a panic attack less likely.

      • Mark W.
        Mark W. says:

        Bostonian, I very much agree with your assessment of videos in the second to last paragraph of your comment. I find the same to be true of podcasts. A transcript or text index that would allow a quick reference to the segment of video or audio relevant to my interest would be very helpful. Otherwise, without knowing if a media has content which I desire or know where in the media it’s located, the chances of me searching that media become very much diminished. There are some exceptions such as if I know the author to be engaging based on previous experience. Also, as you said, there are some videos which lend themselves to certain kinds of learning. Perhaps assembly or disassembly of a carburetor to be cleaned as an example.

  3. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    Hey B—We always knew she was an anxious kiddo from a very early age. However, within the last two years the panic attacks started happening.

    And then when she decided to go to school, after a few months things bubbled up to the surface that we never knew existed.

    We are looking at potentially dealing with several different anxiety disorders. In a way it’s good that we discovered this so we can get help for her now.

    Sadly, she is in no position to help herself but with therapy we should get there.

    Ps With the videos my tween watches I doubt she’s learning anything (academically) educational.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Love the post you linked to. Thank you. I especially like that the mom wrote that the hardest thing about unschooling is the parent’s own self-doubts. As a parent we worry we’ll fall short if everything depends on us.

      You also wrote “I know how much you value Ivies.” But I’m not sure I actually do. For example, Juilliard is a feeder school for Harvard but my son is not interested.

      I do think its hard to talk about education without having quantifiable goals. So, how do you say school is better or not better without a measure. If the measure is that your kid is kind then you can ignore all forced learning. If the measure is that your kid is happy then maybe you need to measure your kid’s education in terms of will they be employable. I use Ivies tp provide a way to measure for parents who believe there is a minimum education, or a foundation, or whatver that makes someone “well educated”. So for those parents, Ivy admissions os a good measure.


      • Aquinas Heard
        Aquinas Heard says:

        Here’s one that addresses the unschooling parent’s psychology on a little bit deeper level: https://amuddylife.com/2018/02/20/silencing-the-voice-of-conformity/

        As far as employability:

        Couldn’t a parent just share their child’s potential employment concerns with their unschooled child when the child is around 14/15? Although, I think it would be only fair if the parent admits this is their own anxiety that’s leading to this discussion.

        In this parent’s household, is it the rule that the teenager *must* move out by the age of 18 or some other age. Then just share that with the child. And talk with them about how you are willing to help get them to that level of self-sufficiently – if they ask.

      • Mark W.
        Mark W. says:

        This is what I would tell (and have told) parents (and young adults) – find a place where relatively easy access is available to those people doing the teaching. It’s not necessarily at the Ivies. What’s important is having professors teaching their classes from freshman year and up rather than someone assisting them. Professors not only knowledgeable and recognized in their field but also able to communicate their subject material in a very understandable manner to students who learn and grasp concepts in many different ways. What I very much appreciated was the ability to ask professors questions during and after class. And if it was necessary, I remember a few instances where those professors were available for a few minutes later in the day when they had completed teaching for the day. I think what made this possible was the caliber of the professor that the university employed and the small size of the university. I knew the above to be true where I went because I made it a point to talk to the students while looking for a place to go.

        • Bostonian
          Bostonian says:

          Not a lot of folks know that this doesn’t happen at most colleges and universities, Mark. Those famous professors at the famous college? Some of them don’t teach any classes at all, let alone seminar classes with undergraduates. They got famous by publishing, not by teaching.

          Add to that the fact that three-quarters of college faculty nationwide are contingent (adjunct, part-time, etc.), and that graduate students teach almost half the undergraduate classes even at a place like Harvard, and our idea of college as a place where a student can have regular conversations with professors seems like an illusion.

          I appreciated conviviality with professors too when I was a student, but there aren’t many colleges left where that is common anymore. Your advice to ask current students how often they get to talk to (full-time, tenure-track) professors is good, because at most colleges today the answer is almost never.

          • Anna
            Anna says:

            I agree with this advice, however I’d like to note one exception or perhaps merely a personal preference. In undergraduate school, my tenured art professors were nine times out of ten not so great. The adjuncts were fresh, passionate, aware of what was going on currently, and active as artists. The tenured professors were more interested in holding their comfortable positions, less willing to take risks, less open to creativity, and more stuck in their ways. I had a good college writing teacher, as well, who was a graduate student with a lot of good ideas, was a sharp critique of our work, and somehow was able to relate to us being near her age. This worked for college writing since it was a skill she had probably recently applied and continued to apply as a creative writing student in graduate school.

            Otherwise, I agree!

  4. Charles Dodgson
    Charles Dodgson says:

    I think that every parent always wants to “unobtrusively” accustom his child to some kind of occupation. It really surprises me why most parents force children to do this or that occupation. Now in college, most of my friends once did something in their childhood. And when you ask them why they asked for their dances, or basketball, playing the violin, they all respond in one voice that they never liked it, and that this was the idea of ​​the parents. On the one hand, this is correct, because many children themselves may not be enrolled in a circle, and they need to show their interest in various things around. But it seems to me that most of them do what to cover their lost ambitions, they want to make sure that their children have time all that they themselves have not had in their lives. Is not this a stupid idea?

  5. Jolene Ejmont
    Jolene Ejmont says:

    I found this post really interesting. I love how you get your kids to check-in every day to see if their day is going the way they would like it to go. I think that us adults need to do that more often as well. I do try to balance what I want as well as what the kids want, because I think it is so important to work on your own enjoyment of life and your own passions. My kids know that our family life and activities are based on compromise and balance and I think it is important for them to learn that it is important to do that during life.

  6. David Angel
    David Angel says:

    Great article, it is so hard to not be led by our own experiences and to just let a child be. We send our son to a preschool that is based on emilia reggio learning. I specifically picked the school because it encourages the child to learn the way that suits him best and to follow his own interests. As opposed to following a teacher telling the children what to do , what to and how to play. It is a fascinating concept.

  7. Agnel Huares
    Agnel Huares says:

    You know, this is a problem for those who do not know how to solve it correctly. At the time, my sons had a period when they are constantly trying something new: different sections, games with friends, sports, computer, etc.It is very important not to miss this period in the child, because now is the time to give him an interesting job. You know, I had a website that converted documents. The site was small and was more like a hobby than for public access. I showed his son, showed him how it worked, and you know, he was interested. He used it as a topic for his report. Always looking for something to benefit your kids, the answers are there!

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