When my son Zohar turned six, I began to think increasingly about adding structure and discipline to his learning journey, which up till now had been completely free flow. I got it into my head that we needed to consciously create some space, time and structure for the theory and practice of different subjects.
Aside from ensuring we got in all the necessary ‘learning’ elements on the checklist done for the day, I also felt doing this would help him understand the meaning of working within a schedule, committing to specific activities, feeling the joy of accomplishment, time management, and other key effective learning skills.
So, I created a weekly schedule for him. Complete with hour-by-hour time-table. Breakfast, 3 hours of lessons (English, Math, Science), various virtual classes and clubs for origami, travel and art. Play time. An hour of screen time each week as a special treat.
The only aspect he showed any real enthusiasm for, in this process, was colour coding the boxes in his time-table, categorizing different activity types into yellow (play time), blue (virtual clubs) and red (home school hours) boxes. However, on my suggestion (insistence), he put the ‘time-table’ up on his wall.
For a few days, I nudged and prompted him, and he would show up, sometime late, usually unwillingly and only after a few reminders. I could see his heart was not in it, but I thought he’d soon fall into the routine. After all, isn’t this what everyone did?
But soon, it got harder and harder to nudge him. Both he and I were becoming frustrated with the daily drill of reminders, refusals, procrastination, bargaining for more time etc. It was reaching boiling point.
Of course, I snapped first.
My anxiety said to him ‘You will become a dabbler if you just kept living your days without any structure. To really immerse in something, you need to do it consistently, for a reasonable period of time, every day. You need to keep pace with other kids you age. You need to expose yourself to many different things.”
I said to Zohar (with great restraint, I thought!), “Zohar, I hope you find your own way to plan your day.”
I didn’t realize it then, but these last words had more of an effect than any of the others in the many ‘lecture’ sessions about life.
The next morning, when I went to his work area, I saw this note pasted on top of the now-abandoned colour-coded schedule.
He was brighter that morning than I had seen him in a long time, free of the stress and pressure of my probing eyes and not-so-gentle reminders.
“Mom, I’ve got my plan sorted. Now, will you help me find stuff?”
Our Learning to Learn Turning Point
This incident proved to be a turning point in our learning journey.
The simplicity of his approach towards doing (he is not bothered with lofty ideas such as ‘learning’).
The idea of taking responsibility for his own plan.
And his flexibility with respect to the outcome – the ‘something’ (what) was not important as the ‘building’ (how) was.
To him, the process mattered more than the output.
But what about me? When I made his schedule, what was it that I was really doing? Here is what I arrived at upon reflection.
Me taking responsibility for his learning – what, how and when he learns - stressed both of us.
The focus on my schedule took us both away from his needs. It shifted his focus to pleasing me by following my schedule (or annoying me by not), rather than finding ways to meet his needs.
But I was also sabotaging my own goals. If I wanted him to learn time management and prioritization, wouldn’t planning his own day and taking charge of his own time be more effective than following someone else’s schedule?
My planning was about logistics and outcomes. His plan was about interests and process. I realized that planning is not just about making time-tables.
My planning was about controlling the content - it could have been about connecting with the container.
The truth was, I was operating from my needs, not his. The need for order, structure, planned learning was mine – not his. The need to see him develop certain skills was mine – not his. I wanted him to learn a particular way I thought was best for him. As for his learning needs - I hadn’t even connected to or understood them yet.
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