Getting beyond the learning moment

Published by Lori Pickert on October 9, 2008 at 03:18 PM

Teachable moments. Learning moments. Living in the moment.

Moments are nice. Interesting things found in the yard. Wondering, then looking up the answer. A great library book. A field trip.

When you catch your child in a moment of intense interest, and you are there to fully support them, that is wonderful. But it’s only a taste of what could be. A moment is, after all, only a moment. Unless it’s also a beginning.

Public school learning is painfully fragmented. Subjects are usually taught in isolation rather than being integrated in a meaningful way. Math, reading, writing, social studies, science, art — each subject stands alone, and children move from one to the next, memorizing and repeating back.

How much better, the homeschooling life! The unschooling life! All the extra time for play and seeing friends, visiting interesting places and exploring the real world!

But .. homeschooling can be just as fragmented as public school. Field trips, group meetings, playdates, co-op classes, music lessons, Cub scouts, library activities, museum make-and-takes...

A learning moment is a wonderful thing; any teacher or parent thrills to that moment when their child is truly lit up from the inside with intellectual curiosity and creative expression. We thrill to see their minds firing on all cylinders; we thrill to see them deeply engaged.

But it’s not enough to create, or recognize, learning moments. We need to create the conditions in which our children make meaningful connections — layering understanding upon understanding until their knowledge is deep and complex.

Each stand-alone great experience we give them is wonderful in and of itself, but imagine giving your child a lovely wooden block, a shiny red LEGO, a twisty section of marble run, a Tinkertoy spool, an Erector set wheel. Each of these things is lovely and fun and full of promise ... but what can your child make with them?

In project learning, you stick with one idea long enough to accumulate many pieces of knowledge that work together.

Project learning is meaningful learning — sustained time, sustained focus, no limits, no road map, simply connecting one concept to the next, until you have achieved real understanding and authentic knowledge. Instead of a learning moment, we can have a learning life.

The greatest enemy of understanding is coverage. As long as you are determined to cover everything, you actually ensure that most kids are not going to understand. You've got to take enough time to get kids deeply involved in something so they can think about it in lots of different ways and apply it — not just at school but at home and on the street and so on. — Howard Gardner

What we want to see is the child in pursuit of knowledge, and not knowledge in pursuit of the child. — George Bernard Shaw


Comment by Aunt LoLo on October 9, 2008 at 08:05 PM

This is a very interesting article! I recently came across the web site for the Homeschooling program my mother used with two of my siblings (Calvert School). My daughter is only two, but we are exploring all our options for preschool and beyond as we move forward. I think I'll add this blog to my "Reader" and see if it can't help sway me one way or the other. ;-)

Comment by Eren on October 9, 2008 at 08:15 PM

Oh Lori, this is wonderful. You are so right about layering until their knowlege is deep. What a great visual for me to keep in my mind. Things are a bit better myself a little more permission to fail. Not being so uptight is a good thing. We chose not to do homework today and instead bought eight different kinds of VA apples from our local market and had a apple taste test, making a graph of who liked each one. We had so much fun...thanks friend for listening.

Comment by Diana on October 9, 2008 at 08:20 PM

A learning life...I like that, it's how life should be, for all of us. Thank you for commenting re the lovely cosmos. It was spectacular!
Diana x

Comment by Mary Smith on October 9, 2008 at 08:31 PM

What an inspiring blog you have. I love reading it. I noticed you use the reggio approach. I am so interested in that and have posted about it too!:)

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 9, 2008 at 09:33 PM

Aunt Lolo, thank you! and i hope you find something useful here. :^)

eren, so happy to see you here, friend. :^) and your no-homework day sounds wonderful - keep up the good work! ;^)

diana, thank you, and thank you for visiting!

mary, thank you so much, and yes - i am all about the reggio approach. ;^) i ran a reggio-inspired school for seven years, and i worked as an educational consultant training other schools and teachers how to learn from it. it continues to inform everything we do at home, and i love to talk about it. ;^)

Comment by Megan on October 10, 2008 at 02:28 PM

I am constantly surprised at how quickly I get sucked in to the fragmentation lifestyle... seems like I have to guard against it constantly... or else we look around and wonder how we got where we are, and why did we want to in the first place?

Currently we are so full of "good and interesting" activities, that we don't have time for leisurely investigations anymore... grrrr...

Comment by Annette on October 10, 2008 at 04:44 PM

Lori, thanks for visiting my blog and introducing me to yours! I have been trying to figure out how to do nature journals for years and you just gave me a bunch of ideas on how to do things for my own enjoyment. The kids I babysit will love some of these projects as well. I wish I had known these skills when I was homeschooling my own daughter, but she was always into possibilities art rather than realistic art. You have given me some great tips for nature journaling, thanks!


Comment by Lynn on October 12, 2008 at 03:38 AM

Lori, I'm so pleased you visited my blog so that I could discover yours! My three-year-old has, for much more than a year now, done his own layering of understanding via his passion for balloons. Instead of going through a brief "balloon phase" the way my firstborn had his dinosaur phase or his car phase, he continues not only to love balloons better than anything else, but also to use them to learn one thing after another. We've had the rubbing-on-walls (and ceilings, with Papa's help) static electricity experiment; the attaching-to-ceiling-fans experiment; the poke-a-magnet-inside-one-and-then-inflate-it experiment (followed by making a chain of magnets on the outside to attach to the inside magnet, thus making a "string"; numerous water-filling experiments and endless popping experiments (popping on rosebush thorns, popping quietly via cutting balloon neck with scissors...). And so on. Nearly all of these have been initiated by my son himself, which fills me with awe and delight -- not to mention reverence for the wondrous natural process of learning.

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 13, 2008 at 01:44 AM

thank you, annette, and let me know how it goes! :^)

lynn, thank you so much for visiting -- your story is a beautiful example of how young children actually have looooooong attention spans and like to stick with one thing for a long time. :^) i love that! i think adults (including teachers and homeschooling parents) often get nervous and actually want to shuttle the kids along to something new, so they will “learn more”, when actually sticking with one thing allows them to do that layering your son is naturally doing on his own. beautiful story -- thank you so much for sharing. :^)

Post new comment