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Teachable Moment

By now, you all know how much I stress the importance of learning – not necessarily the traditional education model – but real learning.  Real learning can happen in a classroom setting, but it can also happen in many less traditional environments such as the car, the grocery store, and the dinner table.  It can also happen at any age and in fact you should never stop learning.

Set an Extra Place at the Table

After so many years of homeschooling, I have learned to always keep my eyes open for the magical “teachable moment”.

According to OxfordDictionaries.com, a teachable moment is: “An event or experience which presents a good opportunity for learning something about a particular aspect of life.”

And according to Wikipedia, “A teachable moment, in education, is the time at which learning a particular topic or idea becomes possible or easiest.”

While those definitions are fine, what I’ve noticed is that a true teachable moment actually requires the following two components to be an actual teachable moment.

  1. A child who is particularly open to being influenced at that particular point in time
  2. A recent event or story the child just witnessed or experienced.

(By the way, I said child, but this works quite well for adults as well!)

The first point is probably the more important of the two criteria.  We all know there are times when our children (or ourselves) are distracted, not focused, irritated, frustrated, uninterested, tired, or generally just not paying attention.  It doesn’t matter how good the life lesson or educational fact you are ready to impart is.  If your listener is not listening to you for whatever reason, it’s not a teachable moment.

You have to have their attention and their interest.

The second criteria is also important.  You need an event or story to ground the lesson you are about to teach.  How many times have you personally learned something interesting, only to forget it moments later? If you’re going to spend the time teaching your children, I imagine you are like me, and want them to actually learn what you are trying to teach!  I’ve found that the best way to be successful as this is to ground the lesson to something just witnessed.

Let me give you an example.  For the past few months, Emery will give me a back massage at night before bed (I know, I’m blessed!)  This massage will often last for an hour or more.  It’s just Emery and I and we talk about all sorts of stuff in his life.  He really opens up to me and it’s fantastic how much better I’ve gotten to know the inner-workings of his mind.

Mostly during these times I just listen and let  him talk.  I’ll occasionally answer some of his questions or pose a different question for him to think about.  But mostly it’s all him.

PJ & Emery

A few weeks ago, however, right before our massage session, we found out about a teenager we know who just announced she was pregnant.  Emery was really shocked by it and did a lot of talking about it.

I knew this was the moment where I could really have an impact.  I did quite a bit of talking and asking questions about how this person’s future was now going to be radically different than what she had planned.  We talked about the fact that while a new life should always be celebrated, there will be long-term implications of this event.  And we also talked about how there are bad, good, and best times for things to occur in our lives.

I know I made an impact and I know that he’s done further thinking on the topic.  Especially with Brett and Mason’s wedding coming up, Emery is even more determined to find the spouse God has for him, get married, and have children.  In that order.

So don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying don’t teach your children unless the conditions are perfect.  Of course, not!  Always teach them.  Just know that there are times they won’t retain the knowledge and then there are the times where the are not only open to listening to you, but there is a life event that will help to ground the lesson so they will really remember it.

It does take some effort to keep your eyes open for teachable moments.  And when they happen, don’t be afraid to stop what you are doing to take full advantage of that moment!  Teachable moments are a true gift and you don’t want to ignore them.

And as an aside, there are times when I’ll have all the children together and it’s a teachable moment for some of them and not others.  That’s ok.  They don’t always have to internalize everything you teach at the moment you teach it.  Some will get it and others will not.  Just keep on teaching!

What about you – can you think of a teachable moment you had with your children?  Or even one you had yourself?