Yesterday my daughter and I were in the car, on our way to see her sibling in a play. She’s in college now, but still lives locally, so we can do things like that.
While my daughter sat beside me in the passenger seat, she worked on a paper. As she busily typed away on her laptop, I noticed something.
“Wow,” I said. “You’re a really fast typist.” She wasn’t using a two finger method, or any other self-created style. She was typing the way I was taught to type when I was in public high school, and they offered classes for such things. Curious, I asked, “Where’d you learn that?”
“From a program I found a while ago.”
“Oh,” I said. “I don’t remember that.”
“Yeah,” she said. “I wanted to learn to type so I found a typing program.”
“How old were you?” I asked.
My daughter shrugged. “12 or so.”
I tell this story at the risk of being accused of not paying attention, and there’s some truth in that. I wasn’t paying attention to how she learned to type. I did know that as a teen she was using keyboards to write papers for classes she chose to take. I didn’t stand over her while she did so, and didn’t concern myself with how she typed. It ain’t rocket science, after all.
Although a two-finger or other makeshift method is just as useful (I have other children whose fingers move like lightning over the keyboard with their self-styled typing techniques), this kid apparently wanted something else. So she got it, on her own, and without my knowledge.
I know other homeschooling parents have experienced this. I’ve heard their stories, and I have others, too. For example, I have no idea how my son taught himself to make websites when he was a teenager. I have no idea how my youngest daughter learned to crochet.
Sometimes, I do know how my kids learned things, even though I had nothing to do with it. I know that my son learned about birds by going bird watching every weekend. I know that my daughter learned how to sing jazz by intensively listening to Ella Fitzgerald and other vocalists, as well as Miles Davis and other great horn players (I remember her telling me that Ella said that’s what she did, listened to the horns).
One question homeschooling and unschooling parents get a lot is, “How do you know they’re learning?” It’s a hard question to answer. Typical attempts include pointing out children’s curiosity, the human drive to learn, or trusting children.
Words inevitably fall short. When you’ve watched your children excitedly pursue knowledge and expertise, when you’ve seen them master skills on their own, when you’ve observed them find resources when necessary (and yes, sometimes that resource is you), the question “How do you know they’re learning” becomes patently absurd. You know they’re learning like you know they’re breathing.
Sometimes when people ask that question, I think what they’re really asking is, “How do you know what they’re learning?” Because isn’t that what school does? Tells kids what to to learn and keeps track of whether they learned it?
I plead guilty to not always keeping track of what my kids learned. I knew my kids were breathing, and I knew they were learning. Most importantly, I knew they were self-sufficient, resourceful, and empowered to learn. That’s the prize I kept my eyes on.