As parents, we’re told that we’re our kids’ first teachers. It’s true, but to me this conjures up the idea that we must stand over their shoulders with a red pen, telling them they exactly what to learn and how. To better support their natural inquisitiveness, it can help to instead think of yourself as a librarian.
In a blog post, author Austin Kleon dived into the work of the late John Holt, a pioneer in the unschooling movement and one who believed that if we as adults want our children to go further, we should mostly step out of the way.
Kleon highlighted this passage from Holt’s classic book How Children Learn, which was first published in 1967.
Each new thing they learn makes them aware of other new things to be learned. Their curiosity grows by what it feeds on. Our task is to keep it well supplied with food. … Keeping their curiosity “well supplied with food” doesn’t mean feeding them, or telling them what they have to feed themselves. It means putting within their reach the widest possible variety and quantity of good food—like taking them to a supermarket with no junk food in it (if we can imagine such a thing).
This job, as Kleon notes, is similar to that of a librarian. And as someone who spends a lot of time in libraries, I like the comparison. Librarians don’t tell you what you should be reading, or hover over you to make sure you’re on track. They do, however, stay in the cultural conversation, give you access to a diverse array of material, and help you follow your interests, whatever they might be (say, ventriloquism or taxidermy or record stores in Tokyo).
To parent your children like a librarian, you might display books (or other interesting items) face-out, encourage their curiosities (“If you’re into pinball, you might also like Rube Goldberg machines or the inventions of Galileo”), and make a decision to not answer their every question but instead help them figure out the steps to find the information on their own. Then simply stand back and let them try to figure out how the world works at their own pace.