Teaching in the School of Life

Every parent is a teacher. Whether you realize it or not, everything you say and do is being intently watched and listened to by your own children and probably by a slew of other people’s kids as well. That’s how we learn — by watching and listening, and then doing for ourselves.

Whatever age you are, you are modeling behavior, attitudes and your whole understanding of life to everyone around you. Our collective youth are learning from you constantly — especially if you’re a parent. And if you’re consciously aware of what you’re teaching, your offspring will be more likely to learn the kinds of behavior and develop the kinds of abilities that you’d like them to have and that can help them become successful, happy adults.

As delightful and successful as my own children (now ages 31, 27 and — oops! — 17) have been throughout their lives, there have been many moments when someone else has either intentionally or unwittingly picked up a thread (or sometimes a whole spool) that I was missing in their development. I am so grateful to those people, and I’ve taken many opportunities to thank them directly — and to remind my children of this added support that they received. Now, I’m seeing those same children as adults, watching them model and intentionally offer support to the youth they come in contact with — not to impose adult ideas on these young minds, but simply because they know that, as part of the community, they too will benefit from having the youth around them raised in a healthy way.

I’m also glad to see my children asking for (and receiving) support and advice from both their peers and their elders in their communities of choice. We all have blind spots — areas where we could benefit from the viewpoint of someone other than our parents to help us see the whole picture. A friend who was raised in Ghana says he literally called every woman in his village “mama” and could go to any one of them for help, advice or food. We are far from that experience here in America, but perhaps we could inch toward that spirit of wholeness and communal support.

We in the community of Asheville have a chance to help “grow” our youth in the wisest and healthiest way possible. Our educational and artistic communities have incorporated some of the world’s most creative and innovative ways of living and working together. And here we all are, living together and breathing the same air. But I wonder if we’re taking full advantage of the moments we are so often gifted with: taking the time to enjoy the light in a child’s eyes when we share some tiny bit of wisdom we’ve gleaned from our own experience?

Maybe now is the time to become more aware of those precious opportunities. For my own part, I can honestly say that in choosing to call myself an educator (from the Latin “educare”: “one who helps individuals discover the creativity that lies within,” according to Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary), I’ve learned more than I could ever have imagined or read in any book. Children are great teachers — and there’s a child in each of us who’s begging to re-emerge!

As parents, we often spend a lot of our time giving our children advice or instruction. But how about taking a moment to simply share with them a bit of who you are?

Ask yourself, “What simple experience have I had recently that I can share with my child that would let them know a little bit better who I am as a person — no advice or moral intended!”

Let me know what happens. And thanks for listening.

[Joy Harmon is director of Math ‘N Art a private education and tutoring business located in Asheville.]

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