What if…?

Taking the leap to self-directed learning is far less “direct” than many of us think. For most of us, at some point in our journeys, especially if we are new to this model, we’ll find ourselves asking a series of “What if” questions.

What if my child fails?

What if my child doesn’t learn this way?

What if they fall behind?

What if my child needs a teacher?

These questions can plague us with uncertainty. They can make us doubt ourselves and our decision to choose something different for our children. They can make us wonder if we’re really cut out for blazing new trails.

So what do we do when we find ourselves in a loop of “What-ifs”? While I don’t pretend to have all the answers, I can share what works for me in this situation.

  1. Take inventory. What’s at the root of my anxiety? What else is happening in my life that’s making me reach for greater control in other areas? In what ways is this more about me than my child?
  2. Check my beliefs. What do I really believe is true about how children learn? How much of the way I’m feeling has to do with the ways in which I’ve been conditioned?
  3. Entertain the answers. It’s not surprising that one of the best ways to eliminate or lessen our anxiety across all areas of life is to actually travel down the road of answering your “what if” questions. More often than not, the actual answer is far less scary than the one we’ve imagined in our head.

Let’s give this last one a try.

What if my child fails or falls behind?

Possible answer: He will. He will get distracted and not do the work to earn the badge. He will fall “behind” on his badge plan. He will need to work harder to complete it “on time” or he will need to take additional time to reach his goal. I’m feeling anxious about this because somewhere along the line I adopted the belief that being behind or taking more time to do something is “bad”. I could only earn the approval of others by staying on track, taking little time, and being efficient. But, I believe that children learn best through trial and error and with time to reflect on their experiences. He is learning, every step of the way, even if I can’t see it yet. After many “at-bats”, he will learn. I’m forgetting that learning objectives and associated timelines are just guidelines, not hard and fast rules. More important than earning any particular badge, he will have a deep understanding of how his actions, habits, and mindset are tied to outcomes.

What if my child doesn’t learn this way?

Possible answer: What do I mean by “this” way? It’s true, my child is unique and learns differently than others. I’m feeling anxious about this because it seems like others “get it” and my child doesn’t. Also, my child’s sibling is very motivated and self-directed. I’m struggling because I was conditioned to believe there was a “right” way and a “wrong” way of doing things in school. I was identified as a good student only if I did things the “right” way (the same way as everyone else). But, I believe that each child has a jagged learning profile. My child gets to use trial and error in a self-directed learning environment to figure out how he/she learns best.

What if my child needs a teacher?

Possible answer: She will. He does. We all benefit from teachers when we’re motivated to learn. I’m feeling anxious because my child doesn’t seem to be making progress in _____ (reading, math, etc) and I think it’s because he/she doesn’t have a teacher explaining it to him/her. I’m struggling because I was conditioned to believe that learning happens within the context of schooling (a classroom, a teacher, lessons). But, I believe that my child is a natural learner and optimal learning occurs when my child can choose the person they want to learn from. My child can find a “teacher” in their peers, a book, a virtual instructor, and can access a trusted adult (a guide) to point them in the right direction or problem-solve when they get stuck. Like all things (with or without a traditional teacher) some things will be harder to learn than others. More important than acquiring any particular content knowledge, my child will have the life-long skill of learning whatever he/she wants, whenever he/she wants.

Generally, if I start asking these types of questions and then take inventory of what’s going on in my life, I find that some area feels really hard at the moment and I just want the learning/school stuff to be easy- as if the universe owes it to me to provide this divine balance. But, when I take a moment to check in with my beliefs, about what I know about children and how they learn, I can let those “what if” questions fade into the background, brushing them off as simple ghosts from the past, visiting not because something’s wrong, but because old habits and ways of thinking linger way past their expiration date.

It brings another question to mind. What if our children can learn better habits and ways of thinking?

New trails, here I come.

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