FAIRWEATHER: No. 1 lesson: Developing a self-directed learner

Tommy Fairweather, Teachable Moments

The goal of education is to develop self-directed learners.  Thus teachers and parents need to ensure through teamwork that each child develops into a life-long, self-directed learner. Sue Wilder compiled a list traits of self-directed learners.

Listed below are my selections of the most important traits and suggestions how parents can encourage them:  

•The child’s ability to manage his or her behavior and time: This trait boils down to teaching your child self-regulation.  As a parent you are responsible for teaching your children to control their own thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.  Ida Florey’s article “Developing Young Children’s Self-Regulation through Everyday Experiences”  provides ideas that can even be used with older children. Video games, for example, teach the opposite of this behavior and are addictive for some children. 

•The child’s ability to understand his or her obligations to others: There are only so many minutes in a school day or of time with you as a parent. Your child should learn to prioritize what help is needed and the appropriate time to seek it. Parents can easily teach this by using index cards of three different colors. Red could stand for extremely important, Blue could be important (but can wait) and Yellow could be not really that important. When your child needs your help, he or she has to decide which card to give you. Keep track of the number of reds. If after a few days there are many red cards used, discuss with the child that the use of the red was overdone. The goal is to get children to begin solving their own problems. Bottom line: when working with others, children need to think of the needs of others.

•The child’s ability to problem-solve and apply appropriate strategies:Teaching problem solving basically requires that you teach your children to identify what the real problem is. Follow that with teaching them how to come up with ideas to solve the problem. Next, you help them learn to evaluate the ideas for solution. Last, they try the solution. The following website has a great graphic to show your children when working on these steps. After completing the process quite a few times, you would just provide the graphic and ask your children to go through the steps on their own.  Help them to continue to learn skills in each step that will improve the use of the process.

•The child’s ability to know how and when to ask for help. When children discover they do not know something, they need to answer this question:  “Can I figure this out myself or do I need to ask someone for help?” If the answer is “I need to ask someone,” the child needs to figure out who would be the best person to ask. They also need to learn when the time is appropriate to ask for help. You can give them guidance based on your own experience.  A perfect time to start this is when your children are young and you are on the phone. They need to learn to wait until you get off unless the house is on fire or they need to go to the hospital. When children are young, you should not really be on the phone a lot anyway so monitor how much time you spend engaged in a manner that it is not easy for your child to get your attention.

You can encourage continued learning by providing the child with appropriate materials and perhaps classes outside of school. The greatest gift you can give your children is developing them into self-directed learners who can solve problems they encounter as adult. Adult citizens who are self-directed learners will contribute greatly to keeping our nation strong and independent.

Tommy Fairweather is a retired Walton County teacher, who lives in Destin.