What Do Children Need to Learn?

A couple of weeks ago, Gemma-Rose thrust her feet towards me and said, “Please can you lace up my shoes for me, Mum?”

I was busy tying my own laces so I replied, “Can’t you do up your own shoes?”

Gemma-Rose shook her head and I was aghast. My youngest daughter is eight years old and somehow I forgot to teach her how to tie shoe laces! And then I remembered something: These were new shoes, her first pair of lace-up shoes. She’s always had the Velcro-fastening kind before.

We were in a hurry to get out the door and down to the playing fields, so I didn’t stop and demonstrate lace tying. Instead, I did them up for her myself.

And apparently Imogen did them up for Gemma-Rose the next day and the next and…

Then last Monday as we were preparing for our morning run, I said, “Come over here, if you want me to help you with those shoes.”

“It’s OK, Mum. I can tie them myself.”

“But I didn’t show you how. How did you learn?”

“I asked Charlotte to tie my shoes for me after swimming on Saturday and she didn’t really want to, so she just showed me how to do it myself.”

Three weeks ago Gemma-Rose had no lace tying need: she didn’t own shoes with laces. Last week she had no need: she had willing helpers to do the job for her. This week because of need, she is a now a fully qualified shoe-lacer-upper.

The best motivation for learning is obviously need.

So now Gemma-Rose can tie laces. But what else have I forgotten to teach her, that she should already know? And what are the ‘essentials’ she needs to learn before her homeschooling education is over? How will I make sure I have everything covered?

John Holt said:
Since we can’t know what knowledge will be most needed in the future, it is senseless to try to teach it in advance. Instead, we should try to turn out people who love learning so much and learn so well that they will be able to learn whatever needs to be learned

I think about this. How can I possibly know what sort of world Gemma-Rose will be moving into when she is grown up? The world is changing so quickly that I have no idea what it will be like in a few years’ time.

After graduating from university, my husband Andy worked in the same industry for 25 years and then his job disappeared. He had the opportunity to do a post-graduate degree and study for a whole new career. And although Andy was excited at the prospect, he was a little nervous too.

“The world has changed so much since I last attended uni,” he confided to me. “We didn’t even use computers when I did my last degree. Will I be able to cope? All the other students will be young and they’ll be familiar with the modern way of learning.”

I assured Andy he’d have no problems at all. He’d soon pick up all he needed to know. And he did. He graduated in the top 2% of his year, and became my Dean’s Medallist of a Husband. I was a delighted and very proud wife. Until the medal was actually placed in his hand, Andy had difficulty believing his achievement, which was rather silly. Andy is a father who loves to learn. And so he had no trouble learning what he needed to know.

But back to Gemma-Rose:

With such an unpredictable future, should I try and stuff as much knowledge into her as possible… just in case?

Or should I just encourage her love of learning, and then trust she will learn everything she needs to know?

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