I have wondered if my children were understanding what I was teaching them. This week while studying the colonial time period and ready Johnny Tremain. I would stop and ask my children if they understood what I was teaching them. I specifically was observing the learning of my six-year-old. He often could not tell me anything about what we had read and I’d have to retell it or have one of the older children tell him what we read.

This bothered me so I talked to him about it. I’d tell him, “I’m going to read this small section and have you tell me what we read.” I would read and stop to ask him. He would almost verbatim tell me what we read. The first few times this satisfied me. He told me the same words I read. Then it occurred to me he was only memorizing the words and not really understanding them. “Now what?” I remembered asking myself.

One day while reading Johnny Tremain I stopped and asked everyone what “desertion” meant. They didn’t really know, so I defined it. Then their older college-age brother came in and defined it even better and we talked about examples. When I felt everyone understood I went back to reading. The story about Pumpkin, Johnny’s friend getting caught and tried for desertion continued. Tirzaan, my 6-year-old got up from the floor and sat next to me and asked, “What does desertion mean?”

I was shocked. Wait, how in the world could he not have gotten anything from the discussion we just had? I explained it to him again trying not to sound frustrated and a little disgusted.

I pondered on this incident for some time. I have concluded – children must have a question and seek the answer before true understanding can happen.  This is a life-changing principle for me. I’m so glad I discovered it and will now be a better teacher for my children.

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