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Teach Your Child to Learn By Discovery

Yesterday, I arrived my home in Lagos, from Cotonou at 11.30 p.m. There was no power, and I learnt the "small" generator “ (I pass my neighbour) stopped working days ago". Asking “Has the plug been cleaned?” would however lead my 13 year old son to SHOCK ME by servicing and starting the generator successfully within 45 minutes!

This proves what I keep saying that coaching kids works – if you know how to do it!

I had never felt more proud as a father, than I was yesterday, to watch this young man do what he did.

NB: His 11 year old brother has displayed similar initiative, countless times in solving real "electrical" problems, and even building contraptions that work e.g. a rechargeable lamp made from scraps and carton).

When I asked that question about the plug, he simply got up and went into the house, to get the tool kit, and also bring out the generator.

Within minutes, he’d unscrewed the plug and (not finding the wire brush) scraped off the deposits on it using a screwdriver. Then he fitted it back in place.

That did not surprise me. I’d taught them to do that many months back, when I came home, and it would not start.

That was all I expected him to do really, because it was all I knew how to do, all I’d taught him to do.

But next thing I knew, he’d uncoupled the combustion chamber (where you have the piston etc)…

Then, sitting on the floor, he proceeded to painstakingly scrape off the hard dark deposits on the inside, using a flat screwdriver mouth.

When I saw this, I asked “Why did you uncouple the combustion chamber, and why are you scraping the inside of the separated pieces like that?”

He said “Yes. That’s what I see the mechanic who comes to service it doing each time.”

I asked: "But have you done it before?"

He replied: "No"

Now concerned, I quickly asked: “Are you sure you will be able to couple it back properly when you are done?”

To my last question he answered in the affirmative without hesitating!

That was when I knew we were about to witness an exciting display of God-given talent, based on learning acquired by discovery!

After scraping off all the visible deposits, he proceeded to use small quantities of petrol to wash the scraped surface clean. Once that was done, he re-coupled the combustion chamber.

By this time it was about 15 minutes past midnight.

Normally, I would have asked him to go to bed because it was late. But I really needed power to be on because I wanted to finish off some work. (And he was going about it so confidently, in a way that strongly suggested he knew exactly what he was doing.)

I had 2 Farm CEOs in Port Harcourt who had paid courier fees to have  my Feed Formulation Handbook and Software, delivered in print and on DVD (with video tutorials) respectively, via FedEx.

So I needed to prepare the CD labels, and cover letters for each person’s package.

My laptop battery power was already used up as I’d done some work without connecting to a walled socket after leaving the hotel in Cotonou.

That meant my only hope of getting those tasks done was either that PHCN would restore power for long enough, or he would fix the generator. I chose to hope on the latter. So I selfishly let him continue.

You can therefore imagine how excited (and proud) I was to actually witness him (with help from his older brother) start the generator (which had not worked for days), successfully, minutes later!

I always knew the deliberate “suggestive” coaching I had been doing would work. But I never really anticipated this powerful impact would happen in such a short period of time.

My sons are REALLY responding so well by becoming spontaneous learners, who intelligently seize ANY opportunity they get, to learn anything they identify to be useful.

When the generator failed to work, they’d simply put it aside days ago – waiting for the mechanic to come and service it. That showed they had not yet fully imbibed the mental attitude I advocated.

It’s the way we human beings are wired.

We get so used to having others solve real life problems for us, that we forget we may also have the ability to do it ourselves, if given the time and proper training.

My asking if the plug had been cleaned, was what made my son recall that he knew a few things he could try on his own to get the generator working.

As it turned out, he actually knew more than I knew, because he had repeatedly watched an expert do it.

But it never occurred to him that he could put what he had learned by watching to use!

Thankfully, my simple question, triggered his critical thinking – thereby changing his mind set.

It all began many months ago, when I instructed him and his siblings to always stick around to watch the mechanic servicing the generator

Most parents would simply let their kids stay in the house and wait for the "hired" person to finish work and leave.

But I’ve always challenged my kids to pay attention to their environment.

My decision about what to ask them to focus on is often dictated by realities faced by the family.

In other words, I have always deliberately tasked them to think of ways to solve problems affecting us financially and otherwise.

For instance, due to the constant lack of steady power supply, they know we spend often about N300-500 daily, to buy petrol to power the generator.

However, the heavy usage, and related wear and tear, also makes us periodically pay N500 to service the generator as well.

Now, whenever I’ve been home, I’ve always noted to them that the extra N500 being spent every 3 weeks, on servicing, could buy an extra round of fuel – IF we could service the generator ourselves.

I told them I did not have the time or patience to do stuff like that. And that they would be better off learning to do it themselves.

The truth was however that I could have made out time to do it.

But I knew it would be better to “stir” up their interest in taking personal action, to explore ways to solve their own real life problems, by themselves, as often as possible.

And I knew that one good way to achieve that end, was to use problems that really touched and made them uncomfortable e.g. lack of electricity.

The desire to have electricity for longer periods naturally made them keen to learn how to get – and keep – the generator in proper working condition.

And that was why they paid so much attention to the man who came to service it.

I’d planted the idea in their minds, that if they could learn from him (without telling him), how to service the generator by themselves, the N500 we paid the man could be used to buy more fuel, so they would get to enjoy longer hours of electricity!

That was what drove my son to watch so well, and learn enough to service the generator successfully, without ever having done it before!

This is a powerful confirmation of what I’ve said for years about coaching people – especially kids.

Find what interests them, and expose them to it, you will find you do not need to push them to learn. They will, on their own, pay diligent attention, and learn what is essential and useful from it.

Final Words

I hope you can put the above ideas to use in helping your child become an independent minded thinker, and self-directed learner.

If you do it right, s/he will become a powerful force to be reckoned with in your family (and even the larger society), when it comes to finding solutions to real life problems.

PS: I have used this story to illustrate what is possible in ANY area of life…

Not just power supply or electricity generation. It also goes without saying that only small generators like the one referred to here, may be handled by a teenager in the manner described.

But having said that, even when a heavy duty generator is concerned, a teenage child can still pay enough attention to useful controls on the machine, while "hired hands" operate it. You just need to get them to be curious about things. To go around and asking questions. That way, they’ll get familiar with things you may miss because you’re too busy.

Then, in the event that the hired hands are unexpectedly "indisposed", s/he may prove useful in helping you, the parent, find a solution to a simple problem e.g. starting and stopping, opening the fuel tank, changing over etc.

[IMPORTANT: This blog's contents are being updated following the transfer to www.tayosolagbade.com from my former domain - Spontaneousdevelopment.com. As a result, some parts of it may not work properly for now. Quick Tip: If a link contains "spontaneousdevelopment.com", simply change it to "tayosolagbade.com" - and it should work. This applies to article links as well as image links. Work continues to update the links(in over 500 articles). Tayo K. Solagbade.]

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