You caught me. The list is here. I promise. But it’s at the bottom of the page. If you’d like to scroll to it, go on ahead, but I promise it will make more sense once you understand how a bird learning to fly is similar to a child learning to…well…learn.
I find myself often speaking about my son “learning to fly.” Recently, I decided to discover why we use that expression. What about birds learning to fly and leaving the nest has anything to do with how we teach our children to gain independence?
Here is what I found.
Just as a bird is born with the instinct for flight, I believe our children are born with the instinct for learning.
However, neither is born with the ability. Training and practice are required for both to put these instincts into practice.
Birds teach their young to fly and to eat. Parents teach children to walk and talk. Each has built in parameters or acceptable standards that show it is being taught and/or learned correctly.
Parents often provide motivation to a child to begin walking from one point to another, but this is predicated by months of proving loving support and building trust. With our kids, the final motivation has often been Blue Bell ice cream. I mean, who wouldn’t walk across a room for a bite of Blue Bell? Of course our joy and excitement helped too!
To motivate their young to learn to fly, birds also use food.
The mother bird feeds the babies over and over, leaving them assured she will continue to do so. Eventually, she begins to move further and further away from the nest, and the birds must leave the nest in order to receive their food. Sometimes, the bird falls to the ground as it begins to venture further and further along the branch.
If the bird spreads its wings, the fall is not quite so hard. This causes the bird to attempt to spread and flap its wings each time it falls. Subsequently, each time the fall is easier and easier, and the bird realizes the positive reward for flapping its wings. Soon, they begin to not fall at all and even return to the branch by flapping their wings and flying upwards, back to the food. This mirrors learning for a child. Falling is inevitable, but learning to grab onto things or put his arms out for balance prevents the falls from hurting so much.
Over time, his balance improves, and he walks easily.
It does not usually happen instantaneously. Several trial runs are attempted. Mistakes are made and corrected. With precious baby birds, it is no different. One successful, though not usually elegant, flight does not make a bird a skilled flyer no more than one step makes a baby a full-blown walker. It will flap its wings in patternless movement with some success one time and little or none the next. It will only stay aloft for a few seconds or even less. Practice, practice, and more practice helps the bird learn how to fly and also develops the muscles required to be an expert flyer.
Some birds actually push their babies out of the nest when necessary. As a young baby, the bird does not realize that flying is critical to its long term survival. So sometimes, it has to be helped.
What child realizes the critical nature of her ability to learn? She learns to sit, crawl, walk, eat, talk, run, read, and so much more, but rarely realizes that her ability to learn is required to achieve all of these milestones.
But not only is learning basic skills critical for utility in life, learning knowledge is critical for humanity – to be a wholly educated human being, not just one with the ability to function in society.
I would like to argue the point that our children and students follow the same process in their education. And we, as their parents and teachers are guiding them through this process.
We’ve already discussed that our children are born with the instinct to learn. They only need to be taught. And we teach them from birth – where to go for security, food, love, warmth, how to walk, talk, read, use the potty, and so much more.
So why is education any different? If a parent can teach her child all of the things mentioned above, why can’t she teach him how to learn as well? (I’d love to run off into classical education and the trivium here, but I’ll refrain).
She can (mom)! He can (dad)! They can (grandparents)!
At the beginning, we provide every step for our children. Sitting together, we learn letters, phonics, numbers, counting, reading and so much more! He develops a trust in his parent as his teacher.
We must also provide motivation for our student to head towards in his learning. For many, it is the ability to get into college and/or get a good job, for others the blessing of being a wholly educated person, or maybe one goal alone – of honoring the Lord. Some of our “not so exuberant” learners might require creative rewards – something more immediately tangible.
Along the way, of course, we dangle these rewards, or “food,” at further and further distances. We dive into the trenches alongside them, holding the reward close by. As they grow into the tween years, we back away down that branch, and our student has to venture out a little further each time to receive his reward. In junior high, we continue to step further away from the nest, leading him further and further into learning for himself. Sometimes he falls, but he realizes the more and more he learns, the less painful the fall, and the easier it is to get back up. All the while, he is exercising the muscles needed to become an expert learner.
By high school, we want him to value the reward of learning in and of itself and enjoy its benefits, just as the bird learns to value the reward of flying from place to place (such as retrieving its own food) and enjoys these benefits.
And sometimes, we have to push too. I’ll never forget pushing my son out of the nest the day before his first Challenge A final. Of course he wasn’t permanently expelled. When drawing his map, he was giving up, saying I can’t. Not yet. Reluctantly and painfully, I pushed, and he fell, hard. I pulled him back into the nest but pushed him right back out again. Fortunately, this time he flapped his wings (just a little) and had a softer landing. I provided advice, and he completed the task. It was not a pretty flight. And his final was not what I would like to have seen, but it was an improvement, and he beat the panic and learned what he was capable of. He also learned mom WILL NOT let him hide in the nest forever, but she will not abandon him either.
One of my favorite joys found in a classical education is the value placed on learning. Learning is not a means to an end, but a valuable event in and of itself. I love how the Lord teaches us through his creation.
At some point down the path the bird, and the child spread their wings and fly off into a life of their own.
In the meantime, we will continue to remind them of the rewards, entice them further and further down the branch, and help them up when they fall – until they are able to get back up all on their own.
A child learning to learn certainly resembles a bird learning to fly, and the rewards are endless.
Ten Ways to Guarantee Your Student Will Never Fly
1. Every time he falls, scoop him up before he hits the ground.
2. Don’t ever make her leave the nest before providing her with food.
3. Hold his hand the entire time he is out of the nest. Don’t even let his fall.
4. Force her to hold her head high, never allowing her to discover the consequences of falling in advance.
5. Take him to the ground, and hope he will learn to fly only by going up.
6. Command her to take off with no end game or end goal in mind, having never seen an example of what she is going to learn to do.
7. Attempt to entice him out away from the nest without creating a sense of trust that you will actually provide what is being offered.
8. When she falls, refuse to help her up.
9. Never push the reluctant student out of the nest.
10. Avoid praising him when he flaps his wings, because he did not immediately soar.
- 10000After settling into the classical model of education and using the Classical Conversations program to help us do so, I faced a new challenge. For the first time, I was bringing up a child who would possibly never darken the doors of public school. Fortunately, she was attending a fabulous pre-kinder program…