It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Interview Question Number 2: Interactions as Opportunities

Ages ago, I was tagged for an Interview Meme. I answered the first question, and then promised you all to answer the next four questions, one a week on Saturdays. Well. Time does fly, huh? Here’s installment two, a mere five weeks later!

2. Allow me to introduce this question with an anecdote. I had the privilege of watching you homeschool your children. I had no biases about homeschooling, pro or con, but I was amazed by the method you used. After a month or two had passed, I asked, “But when do you school them?” I was expecting formal instruction of some kind and it wasn’t happening — not that I ever saw. But your method (what method?!) worked: when your children entered the school system in grade four or five, they were equal to or ahead of their peers academically.

The answer to my amazement is found in your philosophy of care. It states, “Every interaction is a learning opportunity.” I know from observing you how subtle the principle is in practice! Please explain so that others can apply it.

Ugh. Wouldn’t it be simpler if you all just took turns hiding behind the couch and watching?

Where to start?

You all know I’m not a big supporter of constant and earnest parental hovering over children, but I am uneasily aware that what I am about to describe will sound like just exactly that.


Let’s start with a caveat: Making the most of every interaction does not mean that you have to involve yourself in every second of your child’s days. It may very well mean leaving your child alone, and pretending not to see that they’re struggling with something, in order to give them the opportunity to either figure it out on their own, improvise an alternative, or give it up and try for something more within their capabilities. I believe children need and deserve space and quiet times – even when they might not realize it. I believe children need and deserve time alone to learn how to amuse themselves, to learn how resilient and creative they are, to learn that they can control a certain range of their time and activities.


There are many times in every day when you will involve yourself. When you do opt to get involved, you do it in such as way as to allow the child(ren) to develop themselves, expand their understanding, enrich their experience.

I think the key to “Interactions as Opportunities” is to have a set of principles by which you parent. Then, when a situation arises, you will be able to respond in a way commensurate with your principles. It means you have to have thought your principles through thoroughly, of course, and that you will constantly be evaluating how this or that event reflects a principle, or can be used to underline one.

When I was homeschooling, my two directing principles were:
1. Children are natural learners who don’t need to be coaxed or manipulated into learning.
2. My role is facilitator of this natural drive, not enforcer of information absorption.

Thus, my days with my kids involved me following their natural curiosity. I would suggest activities that would include aspects of learning they mightn’t get to on their own, or to enrich their inclinations, but it was always their curiosity and desire that led us – and they had lots! EVERY child does.

If my principles had included children need to learn structure and adherence to routine in order to prepare them for the Real World, I’d probably have established set times for lessons and required submissions of completed worksheets at regular intervals. However, I don’t think this, so I didn’t do it that way. (If you do think that, you would homeschool differently, and our children would probably be just as well educated!)

It’s also occurring to me as I struggle to answer this in a tidy, directed way, that Stephen has asked me two questions here, not one. First, he asks about homeschooling, and then he asks about my principle that “All Interactions are Opportunities”. No wonder I’m having trouble pulling it together without charging off on tangents in every direction! (You all have no idea how much I’ve written then dumped, trying to write something concise and coherent.)

There is a joining thread between the two ideas, though. I have always believed that education is not discrete from life. One thing that homeschooling taught me in a very tangible way is that education is something children (or anyone!) do/does for themselves. It is not, as so many kids in school settings believe, something that is done to them. (Which they must resist.)

Education is life; life is education. Yes, there are certain facts and figures it would do well to absorb, but if they’re necessary and meaningful, they will get absorbed.

With toddlers, it is the same. Lessons are learned through living and experiencing, only with babies and toddlers, the lessons are social/relational, not so much cognitive. (Yes, of course there are many cognitive things going on – object permanence, conservation of mass, learning how to use simple tools (crayons, spoons, blocks) – but the primary and foundational lessons are social, relational, behavioural.)

In fact, I would go so far as to say that until these foundational lessons are learned there is little point in trying to instill cognitive (in the sense of academic) information. A child who doesn’t trust, and who is still in full Power Struggle mode is not going to be a willing partner in learning colours, shapes and the letters of the alphabet.

So, given that the primary lessons of infancy and toddlerhood are social/relational in scope, how else could they be learned but by doing? Yes, there are lots of board books out there that deal with behavioural and emotional issues – biting, the death of a pet, sibling struggles, remarriage, you name it – but these serve only as adjuncts to the real lessons that are learned from the curriculum of living.

This hasn’t gotten into specifics, I know. But that’s because my principles may or may not be yours. My values, my structures, my priorities may or may not be of any relevance to yours and your family at all.

Know your principles, and apply them one tiny incident, one little interaction at a time. Parenting (thank goodness) is done in baby steps. Thus, it really (really!) doesn’t matter if you mess up one interaction, or even if you have a whole rotten day of them. What matters is the cumulative effect of thousands of day-in, day-out interactions of attentiveness, respect, high expectations, encouragement, challenge, and love.

One baby step at a time.

July 14, 2007 Posted by | aggression, behavioural stuff, health and safety, manners, memes and quizzes, parenting, power struggle, socializing | 11 Comments