How to Teach A New Skill

The following post is from Jennifer Burke, a lifelong educator:

source: Jennifer Burke

Watching our little ones at soccer recently, I was reminded of the importance of teaching things in small steps.  The instructor was working with a group of three year olds.  Instead of starting out, “This is how you kick the ball in the net,” she taught them the concept of “in” – simply by having them poke the net with colorful swim noodles.  Over and over, she made sure that the preschoolers knew what “in the net” meant.  Over the course of time, they will build the foundation of what it means to be a good soccer player.

Sometimes, a child’s struggles to learn a concept aren’t because “they don’t get it”; it’s because we have forgotten to teach them the segments that are part of the bigger picture.  Our job is to dissect big skills into manageable pieces and ensure that our kids experience success as they go.  Then, the whole learning process becomes more enjoyable for everyone involved!

Educators call this technique scaffolding:  thinking through all of the steps in a skill and bridging the gap from one step to the next.  It is less teacher-centered than traditional learning because the teacher takes cues from the student in terms of how much support the child needs at the time.  Sometimes the teacher has to step in and model a step for the student; if the child already understands what to do next, the teacher simply cheers the student on.

Here’s how to apply scaffolding the next time you teach your child something new:

1. I do it.

You do whatever it is you’re trying to teach.  Think through every step of the process.   Make a mental note of which steps you think your child already knows and which ones might be a challenge.

2. I do it and you watch.

As your child watches you, talk about what you are doing and why.  Knowing the reasons behind the actions will help your child to remember them better. 

3. You do it and I watch.

This will be the longest part of the learning process and may span a period of time, depending on the skill your child is trying to learn. 

Help them to remember the small steps along the way that will get them to their goal.  If your child reaches a point where they aren’t making progress, remind them of the things they have already learned to do well, which may give them the motivation they need to persist.   Encourage them as they progress, only assisting when needed.  

4. You do it.

Congratulate them on the acquisition of a new skill and encourage them to continue practicing!

Like the supports carpenters use when building a house, scaffolding is meant to be temporary.  Discern when to remove the supports so that your child can achieve independence.  Avoid the urge to make sure they’re doing everything perfectly.  As your kids practice what they’ve just learned, they will naturally improve their skill set.  And, as their skills grow, so will their confidence in their ability to learn more new things!

What are some of the ways you make learning fun for your child?

Jennifer is passionate about children and education. She homeschooled her two sons for five years, established and directed a Christian school in Maryland for 20 years, and currently teaches in a public school in a Chicago suburb. She loves investing in relationships and delights in every moment that she spends with her family.