Thursday, January 27, 2011


People worry a lot about what their children are learning, and it's an important thing to think about, but it is the habit of learning, the habit of thinking, the habit of practice, trial, failure and finally accomplishment that ultimately defines education.

It matters less, I think, what specific competencies young children acquire, than it does that they develop the skills needed to acquire them. We start, perhaps by needing a helping hand, to hold the paper steady, for instance, but with practice we move on to doing it on our own, even casually, with our legs crossed.

Often it's about mastering a tool because tools are one of the most important ways humans interact with the world. And there are always more tools to figure out, just waiting there until you're done mastering the last one.

As adults we can see that gaining some competencies will come in handy as our children go forward.

Those skills are so manifestly useful that we imagine our children someday putting them at the center of their lives as a hobby or even career. Other competencies that our children work so hard to acquire may not seem so useful to us.

But it's rarely the skill itself, but rather the habit: the habit of achieving competency at this or that.

After awhile, after doing it over and over with tools, toys, our minds, our bodies, our friends, we come to understand our own process of asking for help, thinking, tinkering, and practicing that leads to competence.

And we learn to apply it over and over again, overcoming frustrations, falls, and failures. Knowing that these are all inevitable aspects of learning.

We've fallen before so we always know we might fall.

We've had bad times with our friends as well as good. And we come to understand this is the only way to where we want to go. We struggle to become competent . . .

. . . and once we are we take that new competency and try it out on the rest of the world.

But ultimately it's not the specific competencies that matter, but rather the habit of acquiring them, the process, the hard work. And then we apply those habits to the world as it presents itself to us because we're confident that this is the way to get the most out of life.

If it's not clear, he's using a periscope to peer into the murky depths of our
accidental experiment aquarium. There's not much to see, but what a 
cool experiment.
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Saya said...

I love this... thank you so much. You always put things into words in a way that I can't quite do...

Also wanted to thank you for yesterday's post. I needed that (and a couple of other co-workers!) yesterday.

Scott said...

Tom, you always make the synapses in my brain fire. Not that I disagree with your just put them in a new context, making those ideas and concepts wear slightly different clothes and make me examine them from a new perspective. Thanks. I have more pondering to do.

Anonymous said...

I always wonder - what will my boys do when they become adults? I think all parents ponder (some worry, some obssess) their kids future so reading this post helps to re-focus my parental priorities of developing & encouraing the "habit" of learning.

thanx Teacher Tom!

MOM #1 said...


I think all parents should take a step back and think of their child's development in this way from time to time.

I wish someone had been around to say these things to me when Baby Boy was a little one.

Crystal said...

Thanks Tom - this is GREAT! I'm going to share your thoughts with the parents in my preschool program.

Unknown said...

Habits are important for certain.

I have loved watching your pictures change from the beginning to now. Now your shots are better composed. I love that you have learned, perhaps not intentionally, about shooting better.

Elizabeth said...

Fantastically said. Thank you!

Laurence Furr said...

Thank you for your blog/s. I have just discovered your page. It is great to discover other men who teach young children.

Laurence Furr