What I Have Learned about Teaching from My Daughter

As the parent of a six-month-old, I have learned about a lot of things recently.  I’ve learned how to change a diaper in situations that were less than ideal for accomplishing this normally mundane task; I’ve learned how to function on very little sleep; I’ve learned (or, rather, confirmed) that my wife is a superhero; I’ve learned that once babies learn how to roll around they like to do it A LOT; I’ve learned that the sound of your own child’s laughter can change your perspective in fundamental ways.

Unexpectedly, though, I have also learned a few things about teaching from my daughter.  I thought this would happen at some point, but I didn’t think it would occur so early in her life.  Although she is still months away from being able to speak, observing her every day has made me think about the classroom in new ways.

Let me illustrate:  We have a red coffee cup that I like to use because it holds more coffee than our other cups (see above for what I’ve learned about sleep).  My daughter is very curious about this cup.  She stares at it, reaches her hand out to touch it, rubs it (when it’s not hot), and tries to grab it.  She does this with many things around the house, frequently attempting to put them in her mouth as well.

For her, learning is about necessity:  “That’s an interesting looking cup.  I need to touch it RIGHT NOW.”  It is about relevance:  “I wonder if that funny red cup is important for my daily needs.”  It is about trial and error:  “I have judged this cup and determined that it is not of immediate significance.”  I like that I can see this process playing out every time I drink from the cup.

What has been revelatory for me, however, has been the completely unbridled curiosity I have witnessed from her in these moments.  I have been wondering lately how, as a teacher, I could spark the same kind of intellectual curiosity in my students–about the Middle Ages as opposed to, say, red cups.  We were all children once, and surely we haven’t entirely lost this sense of curiosity that was once the driving force of our daily lives.

How to find it, though?  How to tap into it?  I’m full of more questions about this than answers, but there must be a way to teach that allows everyone to reach back through the years and become the curious individuals we once were.  Part of this probably has to do with making the material necessary and relevant, and the literature on teaching and learning has had a lot to say about these elements.  But what about curiosity?  There must be a way to cultivate this in our students or, at least, to help them find it all over again.

What do you think?