Updated: Dec 6, 2019
Learning is a life long process and is not restricted to the classroom. Some of most important learning take place outside of the classroom, and some of the most critical learning take place in the home. With this in mind, we need to ask ourselves an important question, “What type of learning are our children getting, in and out of the home?”
Very often, it can be a default for a parent to assume a more traditional teaching role with their child that creates the dynamic of teacher and learner. In this dynamic, there is often an ‘expert’ who is sharing information and a child/ren who are expected to be receptive of this information. How often do we assume this type of teaching role with our children? This type of engagement is most often of a more practical or logical nature. It is also very reliant on words, understanding and reasoning.
How much of these engagements do our children actually take in? The reality is not very much. This leads us to needing to repeat the lessons a few times which can be frustrating and potentially damaging to relationships. The truth is that these types of engagements are not very conducive to teaching the necessary lessons that we want or need our children to learn, and we need to explore an alternative process.
Experiential learning is a learning cycle that very often takes place naturally to us and around us. It is a repetitive process that we have all experienced throughout our lives, and subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) shape who we are and how we engage with life.
Experiential learning is the process of learning through experience, and is more specifically defined as "learning through reflection on doing”. It is a more hands on type of learning. Click here to watch a short video to explain this further. Having more understanding of what Experiential Learning is helps to highlight the critical nature this plays for all of us, and especially children.
A very important consideration, as we reflect on the learning experiences that our children have with us daily, is how does our parenting style help or hinder experiential learning for our children? Let’s firstly consider the broad types of parenting styles, and how they impact the type of learning experience that we provide for our children.
You believe kids should be seen and not heard. When it comes to rules, you believe it's "my way or the highway." You don't take your child's feelings into consideration. Because I said so....
You set rules but rarely enforce them. You don't give out consequences very often. You think your child will learn best with little interference from you. Kids will be kids.....
You don't ask your child about school or homework. You rarely know where your child is or who s/he is with. You don't spend much time with your child.
You put a lot of effort into creating and maintaining a positive relationship with your child.
You explain the reasons behind your rules.
You enforce rules and give consequences, but take your child's feelings into consideration.
Researchers have found kids who have authoritative parents are most likely to become responsible adults who feel comfortable expressing their opinions.
Helicopter Parent/Lawnmower Parent/Snowplow Parent: You are overly involved in your child’s life
You help to clear the way for them and protect them from hurt and failure
It is difficult to differentiate between your child’s life and yours
Your goals and aspirations are directly related to your child’s performance and success
“The Playground Jungle Gym”
Now that we have some clarity on the different types of parenting, let’s now relate parenting as a whole to a jungle gym scenario to help make it more relatable. Imagine that each of the explanations below is a parent-child pair that is at a jungle gym on a playground. Consider how each of the children is likely to play on the jungle gym. This is critical as the jungle gym represents their life, and how they engage with the jungle gym represents how they will engage with life and all that comes along with it. Through all the examples below, ask yourself what lesson do these children learn? What type of child do they become and ultimately, what type of adult do they become?
Authoritarian: This is the type of parent who feels inconvenienced by being at the playground. They tend to reprimand their child before they have done something, just in case they do it.
These children tend to be anxious, uncertain, scared to try and scared to fail. They play it safe, but feel that they are probably going to get in trouble anyway. At times they can often rebel (quite drastically at times).
Permissive: This type of parent seems more focused on socialising. They may lay some ground rules, or at least say a few things that sound like rules - but they don’t really enforce them so it’s more lip service. They let children run wild because: “kids will be kids”
These children become the unregulated, “wild-child”. They don’t respond to rules well and become the bratty child who then become the bratty adult. When things go wrong, they are the victim. They never learn to accept responsibility or accountability for what happens.
Uninvolved: The uninvolved parent is the type of parent who sits under a tree, reading a book, checking emails and just generally being a bit disinterested. They let their child have freedom, and actually they are encouraged to go off do their own thing.
A bit similar to the Authoritarian child - these children develop a sense of anxiousness. They never really learn how to reach their potential. They also can play it safe because that time they were excited and climbed up the jungle gym and fell, there was no one to help them up, to tell them it is ok and to encourage them to try again....so they stay near the bottom of the jungle gym, where it is safe. They never push their limits in case they “fall” again. They tend to go through life under achieving because they don’t know any different. They are often desperate for attention which can lead to negative attention seeking behaviours.
Helicopter/lawnmower/snowplow: This parent is right there, guiding every step the child takes. Ensuring the climb is easy and smooth. When the child slips they catch them before they fall, and firmly plant their feet back on the jungle gym to carry on climbing. Often these children don’t even realise that that have slipped.
As a result, these children can become over confident or arrogant. They don’t know what failure is, so when it happens it is always someone else’s fault. They go through life with an inflated sense of their abilities. They can be pushy, demanding and entitled and they need or often demand a smooth ride through life.
There is a lot of research into helicopter parenting, and there are some positives such as developing a close relationship and communication with your child. Having said that, the negatives include a lack of self identity, lack of accountability and lower self esteem (real, not perceived).
Authoritative: This is what I like to call the “guided fall” parent. They are present and close to their child on the playground, but they let their child climb by themselves. They encourage and praise, or caution when necessary. They set the boundaries and enforce them, often allowing the child’s experience to teach them a valuable lesson. When their child falls, they don’t catch them. They let them fall, let them scratch their knee or bump their head, but they are close enough to soften the fall if necessary. They help dust the knee or rub the head and then encourage some reflection on the event that passed and encourage them to try again.
These children often become confident and assertive. They know and understand their abilities and strive to achieve their goals. They ask for help when needed and accept failure when it happens. They constantly learn and grow from their experiences and take ownership for what happens to them.
So, how does our parenting engagement facilitate or hinder the important experiential learning that children internalise as their thinking and behavioural patterns and behaviours?
Do we allow for the critical learning opportunities to take place, or do we maybe try take over the moment? And while we consider this, let us also consider whether we are allowing ourselves to engage in the experiential learning process?
Some food for thought....