It’s okay to feel lost

You’re teaching your child nearly every day and it is working. You are making a difference. You are helping them. This is hopefully about adventure, not pressure. Challenge, not problem.

Sometimes, you will be lost. You must be lost. It’s required.

The brilliant author Seth Godin says it marvellously that true learning requires ‘tension and discomfort.’ Before change come moments of not knowing, not understanding, perhaps not even being aware of what you are supposed to know.

Learning an eleven plus curriculum means your child is engaged with at least eight forms of knowledge. It also means you are, too. Those forms are:

  1. Information they have already learned at school, so will be revising.
  2. Information they are familiar with, but purposefully repackaged into multistep problems they will not be familiar with, which are designed to test logic and a creative ability to use information.
  3. New skills and concepts they will not know. Eleven plus exams involve a Year 6 curriculum, but exams are sat at the start of Year 6 – before that curriculum may have been taught in your child’s school.
  4. Exam techniques: learning how to manage time; how to dive deeply into the parts of a question to make sure they understand what is being asked and which method they should use to solve it; how to not be fooled by incorrect answers; to do all of this as efficiently and carefully (yes, there’s a contradiction there) as possible.
  5. Learning to mistrust and test and not be tricked by multiple choice answers that are designed to trick children.
  6. To believe in and keep returning to a growth mindset that understands learning is not fixed, that new skills and information can be taught and learned and understood.
  7. Stamina and buoyancy to start learning, stay learning and continue to prepare for many months. This includes feeling lost and found many times, a cycle of discovering what you know, discovering and celebrating what you don’t know, and having the cool courage to begin learning each chunk of what you don’t know, so that in the end, your child runs out of nearly everything they don’t know in time for the exams.
  8. Doing all of this inside relationships: parent and child, grown-up and child, tuition, friends, clubs, grandparents, and so on. Finding a way for everyone to be on the same page, to trust, to be okay about asking for, and being given help, from different people, to understand and not blame frustrations. To know when a break is needed. To know when a smile and a hug is needed.

This is a huge set of tasks, and feeling lost is normal. If you can embrace feeling lost, accept that it means you are on the right path, you can stay happier, learn more, and surrender to the long-term process and path, the ‘journey’.

One step at a time – or one step ahead?

One of the most helpful methods that served me as a dad when teaching both my children, and which serves nearly every teacher on the planet, is to forget knowing everything, and focus on being one step ahead of your child. It’s such a simple process, but it can make the learning session so much easier for you both.

For example, feedback from a test shows your son or daughter doesn’t know about angles in quadrilaterals and triangles. Before you rush in to solve or give more questions, set aside an hour for you to learn about these. Books like Bond How to do 11plus Maths, CGP’s Year 6 Maths, are good introductions, as are youtube channels like Corbett maths and Khan academy, as well as the BBC teaching part of its website. You have the whole internet to help you. My go to book for learning about concepts, which I recommend to parents of the children I tutor, is Derek Haylock’s Mathematics Explained for Primary Teachers.

You don’t need to know everything or visit all channels. Just knowing enough of the topic for you to understand the basic concepts ahead of your child will allow you to answer a few of their questions, possibly to recognise mistakes in their thinking, and to delve into the subject and some questions with them.

As a class teacher, I would always brush up on knowledge or skills ahead of teaching children. As a tutor, I do this continually.

Admitting you don’t know something is good for your child’s learning.

During a session, if you don’t understand something or can’t answer a question your child has asked (yet), it’s a wonderful moment to compliment your child’s curiosity and intelligence: “What a great question! I’m not sure, let’s explore and try and find out.”

This admission has three wonderful benefits you definitely want in your learning time together:

  1. Your child watches how you respond to not knowing, and when they see you respond positively and excitedly, it’s more likely he or she will learn to respond the same way.
  2. You give them permission to not know or understand something. In fact, you normalise not knowing and understanding something as a vital part of actually learning it!
  3. You create a mood of being willing to explore a topic. To open up, not shut down.

It’s okay to feel lost. You are helping your child. You are both learning. Enjoy your time being lost and exploring together.

Stay learning, stay happy, stay 11plushappy!

My best, Lee