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Teachable Moments: Are They Overrated?

Teachable moments. Are they golden opportunities or overrated?

Teachable moments. We have all heard of them.

In fact, if you are a homeschool mom, you probably feel even more pressure to grasp each teachable moment as it comes along to squeeze, pump, and force every bit of learning out of them. But sometimes? Sometimes I think we need to back off on the teachable moments and just let our kids be.

To explore.

To learn.

To fail.

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Thoughts on when to step in during teachable moments and when to step back and let our children explore.

I’ve been homeschooling various numbers of kids for over 15 years. If there is anything I have learned it’s that there is more than one way to skin a cat. Or dissect a lamb heart. Or explore a lake.

And there is more than one way to be a successful homeschooler. While there are times to latch on to a teachable moment and teach, more often, I think we should stand back and let our children learn. I am a firm believer in delaying formal education.

Apollo and I get together once a week with two of his former public school classmates who are now homeschooling. We have hiked together, baked together, made applesauce together and even sweated to the oldies together. I can only speak for myself (and not the other two moms) but I am always pushing to stand back and let our kids discover on their own.

Teachable moments. Are they golden opportunities or overrated?

A couple of weeks ago, Indiana’s mom, Kym, brought over some old appliances for the kids to take apart. We offered the appliances, the tools, and the space to explore. We didn’t offer them a lesson in mechanics or how coffee makers work. Throughout the course of exploring the kids asked questions and occasionally asked for help. We got to discuss the difference between a Philips and flathead screwdriver. We talked about the tubing in the coffee maker and wondered about some of the parts. The kids got a lesson in conflict resolution as Joey wanted to participate more and Apollo thought, as the older kid, he should be in charge.

We made no demands, but just let the kids explore.

They loved it.

Teachable moments. Are they golden opportunities or overrated?

A week later we set the kids free with an invention box. An invention box is simply a box filled with odds and ends. Once again we set the kids free to explore at will. In Montessori schools, they call this The Invitation (which I love).

BTW, see that book, Rosie Revere’s Big Project Book for Bold Engineers? You should buy your kid one now. Apollo loves his!

Teachable moments. Are they golden opportunities or overrated?

Teachable moments. Are they golden opportunities or overrated?

Apollo ended up making a cat toy…which fell apart repeatedly and had to be taped up again and again. But you know what? He had fun. He learned about pulleys. He learned about trying over and over again when something failed. He learned persistence and, eventually, he had a toy the cats could play with.

Until it fell off the wall again.


Teachable moments. Are they golden opportunities or overrated?

Teachable moments. Are they golden opportunities or overrated?

Teachable moments. Are they golden opportunities or overrated?

We generally have lunch together at our Thursday get-togethers. And frequently we have the kids help make lunch.

Just as I believe in delaying formal education I also believe that many times the best opportunities for learning happen when we leave an invitation and then step back and don’t teach. This doesn’t mean we ignore the kids. I am available to answer questions, help research, and find books on the topic but I like to let Apollo lead these adventures in learning. I just don’t attempt to turn everything into a lesson. I have been homeschooling long enough to know that the lessons will come when the kids are ready to learn them.

Teachable moments. Are they golden opportunities or overrated?

Here are a few questions to ask yourself when you are faced with a teachable moment:

1. What is the end goal?

In our case, the end goal of homeschooling, it is to raise life-long learners who really think and are resourceful enough to find the answers they are seeking.

2. Is there more than one path to reach that goal?

Obviously, our answer to that is yes. We have kids who have never set foot in a school before college and kids who have been in public school since first grade.

3. Do I need to teach something, or should I just stand back and watch?

My all-time favorite homeschooling book and the one book that has probably shaped my homeschooling more than anything else is Homegrown Kids by Raymond and Dorothy Moore. I cannot recommend it highly enough. I read it the first time when Iris was still a baby and have read it many times since.

Do you stand back and let your kids learn? Are you more hands-on or stand back and watch?






  1. Charity

    As a product of homeschooling in a large family – definitely agree with this. There are absolutely times to verbally and straightforwardly point out things to your children, but if my mom had charged in and aggressively supervised all the “learning” stuff we did – we would have gotten tired of it and retreated to areas so valueless that we could never possibly be interrupted by adults trying to teach us something. Kids need their own worlds to conquer.

  2. bemis

    I tend to be laid back, although I’m finding that my 6-year-old thrives with a schedule. It’s hard for me, since I just want to let him be free to explore all the way, but he tends to get himself into trouble if there isn’t some sort of plan. I guess it’s similar to your weekly times, where you set up an activity and then give freedom within it. Total freedom of choice with no guiding don’t work well for our son, but freedom within a specific overarching plan works very well (i.e. “here’s a box of stuff. Your challenge is to make something that floats and moves with air power” and then from there he does that, then moves on to building something else if he’s interested). Additionally, I have a daily read-aloud schedule, and no more than 10 minutes/day of worksheet-type stuff. I don’t know if I’ll ever do a typical handwriting/spelling/grammar/etc. program. I’m also much more interested in mathematical number sense than filling out pages of problems. Good thing he likes math games and challenges! If you want a good read, check out What’s Math Got to Do With It? by Jo Boaler–it’s one of the best books about education and how kids learn that I’ve ever read! It turned me into a total math geek…

    We’re also facing a proposed law change where yearly evaluation/test results would have to be submitted to local public school officials, starting at age 6, and if a child falls below the 40th percentile two years in a row, the homeschool would be “terminated.” Terrifying, probably won’t pass (our local schools fall well below this standard), but still definitely puts a crimp into delayed formal education when the homeschooling program could be terminated before the child is even 8 years old.

    • Nicole

      Wow. That’s a scary and unproductive law. There would have to be so many exemptions to that law. I am a homeschooling mom of four, three with FASD (in addition to MR, ADHD, & PTSD). If my children fail the standardized test, it has nothing to do with my teaching. I at least have some “proof” with my degree and experience in special education and elementary education. However, I am sure that there are many parents of special needs children who would be intimidated out of homeschooling by that law.

      • bemis

        I absolutely agree–my parents originally started homeschooling my siblings and I when it became obvious that one of my brothers had a learning disability that wouldn’t be dealt with appropriately in the public schools (my parents had great relationships with our local schools before and all the way through homeschooling).

        And now I have my own child who was born three months early. This child doesn’t do well in loud/chaotic/busy environments (totally loses the ability to focus appropriately), but is thriving at home.

        I recently went to the public hearing for the proposal and there were so many stories of kids like yours and mine who would not (or had not) done well in typical school environments, and even cases where homeschooling parents of children with significant delays/disabilities went to the schools to talk about putting their child into the public school, and local schools told that they couldn’t offer the assistance the child needed, or that the child didn’t meet the “standards” for extra help. I’m not opposed to public schools, but I also recognize that many children won’t thrive in a typical school environment. I’m all for finding the best option for each child, where that child will thrive to the best of his ability (whether or not he ever reaches the 40th percentile).

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