A few days ago Bea and I were sitting on the couch reading Farmer Boy together. We’d just read about Almanzo’s family sitting down to supper, with the schoolteacher there to be boarded for two weeks and a wealth of food on the table. In those times it was expected that children were seen and not heard at the table. Only the adults were allowed to talk.
“I think that’s WRONG!” Beatrice exclaimed. “Why would they have a rule like that?”
I explained about how our beliefs about what kind of behaviour is acceptable in children has changed over the years, and that in those times they believed that it was the adults’ right to talk without interruption over dinner because they had been hard at work all day and didn’t have any other time to talk about important things. I went on to say that adults in those days believed that the children would learn more by listening quietly to the adults’ conversations, because the adults had more experience and the children could learn from that.
“Do you think that could be true? That children can learn by listening to adults talk?” I asked.
“No.” Bea answered.
“How do you think children learn?”
“They figure things out for themselves!”
This is the essence of learning: people (of any age) figure things out for themselves when they’re motivated to.
But we’re not truly reinventing the wheel every time. Even though Beatrice doesn’t see how she is learning by listening to adults talk, she is unconsciously absorbing all kinds of information by spending time with adults. How to behave, how to communicate clearly, how to make decisions and maintain relationships with others.
I’m glad she is confident in her ability to learn by figuring things out for herself. This kind of self-directed and interest-led learning was one of the things that attracted me to homeschooling, and I see many successful adults continuing to learn and grow this way through their entire lives.