I have spent the last few weeks watching my daughter begin the process of walking, and it has been truly one of the most profound experiences of my life. It’s thrilling. It’s emotional. And, it has given me pause to reflect on why.
In her efforts, I see something elemental, but that has nothing to do with the physical act of walking. I see something that is at the essence of her being and yet, as an act, does little to define her. I see a process unfold that is often considered a skill, but is better understood and encouraged as an awakening.
My daughter is learning. Her learning is of her. It is within her.
And so with her actions, she enlightens me about the critical elements of learning, and in as much, the critical elements of teaching:
Curiosity (Internal motivation) - At some point, while sitting on the carpet in our living room, my daughter looks up. She looks up to where my wife and I are sitting, where we put our iPad and the remote control, and yes, where we also put our dinner most nights. She can’t see where all this is, but she knows it’s up there. And, then one day, she just reaches up.
New Perspectives - She puts her hands on our coffee table and squirms her body vertical, her muscles unsure of their new relation to gravity. She stands, wobbly, looking around. It is clear in her eyes, she is seeing a whole new world – a world from roughly two feet high that shows her things she has never seen before (without our help), and changes her perspective on the things she has.
External Incentives - What is this new world? What is that on the couch? Look at those colors on the pillows! The remote control is fascinating. How can she get it? She wants and needs to explore these objects. She reaches, but her arms are too short. We urge her on with positive messages (and move everything on our coffee table to one side).
Struggle - But, it is all still there and it still tempts her. And yet, she stands; her legs beginning to shake in fatigue as she knows neither how to move toward the objects nor how to get back to the safety of the floor. She is stuck. Then one day… the right heel comes off the ground…and then back down. The right knee comes up…but the left one shakes. She cries a moment, unsure. And, suddenly she takes a side step and her hands instinctively shift position to support her along the tabletop.
Reflection - “Hmmm…what just happened? I just moved from there to here. Um…I can do this! That thing I just did may get me over there to all the stuff I want to explore.” Within a couple of days, she masters moving from surface to surface to get around the living room. My wife and I have moved everything to higher ground (and also begin noticing every potential danger in the room).
Experimentation - After a week or so of pulling up and side stepping around the room, one day she stands, right in the middle of the room. She just stands, holding onto nothing. She looks around. My wife and I hold our breaths. She drops and crawls where she needs to go. But, she keeps doing this again and again as if knowing there is something to it, a new opportunity there, but not sure what it is. Then she stands…a half-step…drop…crawl…
Courage and Resilience - So, one day, one of us holds a favorite toy or book out a few feet from her, and she haltingly and hesitantly starts to wobble forward. One step…and down. She gets back up. One…two…three steps…and down. She gets back up. One…two…three…four steps…and down.
And today, she continues her process with modest daily improvements but with a confidence that is beginning to surge. The fear and uncertainty that have flooded her countenance are beginning to shift to a look of joy and pride in her efforts and our reinforcement.
And, with every new step, her curiosity is again piqued, her perspective expanded and her learning process gathers inertia.