Parents as Teachers

by Marian Buchanan

The responsibilities of a parent are many:

  • physical, from providing diaper changes, proper nutrition and a safe environment, to teaching self-care;
  • emotional, from giving love, affection and encouragement, to teaching appropriate ways of expressing emotions;
  • mental, from introducing this little newcomer to the world, answering questions and providing opportunities, to teaching thinking skills;
  • spiritual, from nurturing creativity, nourishing spirit, and passing on values, to teaching how to explore these dimensions on one’s own.

The varied manifestations of responsibility all boil down to one principle: to support and guide the child’s growth.

To draw out a child’s potential in this way is to "lead" (ducere) that potential "out" (e-), in other words, to educate.

The care and teachings that a parent provides aren’t just reserved for the early years, but continue throughout childhood and beyond.

Thus, education isn’t something separate from parenting,
it’s the definition of parenting.

This endeavour is complicated by the fact that every situation the child encounters, every interaction with others, also calls to the child’s raw potential, in ways that may be at odds with the parents’ efforts to provide the best environment as they see it.

Conscious parenting involves examining thoroughly and thoughtfully each situation that might affect your child’s well-being and development, and choosing the response or course of action that you believe is in the child’s best interests.

It may be a protective measure, designed to keep the child from harm, or it may be an enhancing measure, designed to optimize the child’s blossoming. It may be a combination of both.

In order to help a child blossom, a parent needs to give attention to all the dimensions of the child’s being:
body, mind, heart and spirit.

This is a whole human being we have under our care, a whole universe unto itself, not just a conglomerate of separate parts that can be shaped independently of each other. What shapes one dimension, automatically impacts the others.

  • Feeling sick can interfere with mental concentration, make one cranky, and challenge one’s spiritual resources;
  • Ideas can trigger emotions, dictate attitudes towards the body, and determine one’s spiritual path;
  • Anger can flood the body with damaging chemicals, cloud one’s mental judgement, and blind one to spiritual connections;
  • Attunement to the source of life can promote healing, emotional comfort, and clarity of thought.

All these dimensions interact whether we intend them to or not.

Reasonably competent and caring parents are in a unique position to guide their child’s unfolding holistically, that is to say, with awareness of and deliberate attention to all of the dimensions of being within the context of their interactions.

If the key to a child’s highest potential is in the dynamic intertwining of all dimensions including the mental, who better to "educate" a child (in the narrow sense of teaching academics), than those whose responsibility and joy it is to "Educate" their offspring (in the epistemological and etymological sense of leading out their potential)?

With rare exceptions, parents are by nature those with the strongest love for their child, those with the child’s best interests most at heart. They know their child more thoroughly than anyone else, and can adapt to the child’s pace and give extra attention where and when the child needs it the most.

No matter how loving and caring individual schoolteachers may be, they cannot logistically provide the quantity and quality of individual attention that would nurture each child’s natural unfolding.

Parents are the constant in the child’s environment. They have the necessary background information to interpret each stage of the child’s development in an accurate context. They are there throughout childhood and beyond, to follow through on what they teach and keep the teaching consistent.

No matter how dedicated particular schoolteachers may be, they aren’t provided with the means to stay in pace with an individual child’s progress, nor to follow through, year after year. Teaching methods may be inconsistent from one teacher to the next, as may be the values imparted, both explicitly and unconsciously.

Values that parents wish to pass on, can be imparted most effectively the less they receive interference from hidden messages inconsistent with their own; in other words, the less time the child spends in environments that don’t support the parents’ values.

No matter how kind and ethical specific schoolteachers may be, their own value system may be quite different from that which the parents wish to impart. There are those who would say that it’s not within the school’s mandate to impart values, but there is no way not to impart them, deliberately or not. Everything we do or fail to do expresses values, whether aligned with our conscious value system or diverted by our emotions; whether our actions are freely chosen or we are carrying out someone else’s directives, "following the rules," "just doing our job." The school’s curriculum is itself riddled with values, many invisible to those who take them for granted.

For parents to guide their children through the school-age years, is but an extension of the care and teaching already provided to them as infants and toddlers. Even if they send their child to daycare, only the most reluctant of parents would keep themselves entirely removed from the child’s discovery of ABC and 123, etc. After all, it’s part of who the child is, as a multidimensional being, and therefore falls within the domain of their responsibilities. If they’re reasonably glad of their parenting role, they also find great joy in witnessing and encouraging their child’s discoveries.

Children have a natural curiosity about their world and an eagerness to learn. It’s only when their learning is overly regimented from without, or meets with excessively frustrating obstacles, that they may lose their enthusiasm and interest. Given opportunities, support and flexible guidance, however, they flourish without the need for imposed motivation. In other words, given the proper configuration of the physical, emotional and spiritual dimensions, the mental dimension is open and free to function at its best.

No matter how wonderful particular schoolteachers can be, they aren’t the only kind of teacher in the system, and whether a child ends up with one of them or not, is neither of the child’s nor the parents’ choosing. It’s a bit of the luck of the draw whether a child is assigned a suitable teacher in any particular year, and to have nothing but "good" ones year after year, would seem something of a miracle.

The convention of sending children outside of the home for their academic education most often goes unquestioned; partly, perhaps, out of a widespread lack of confidence in parents’ competence as teachers.

After all, it’s argued, just because you know how to spell doesn’t mean you know how to teach spelling, and teachers are people who have received several years of training in order to learn the skill which is assumed to be lacking in parents.

As pointed out above, however, parents already engage in teaching throughout childhood, as a natural expression of their parenting role.

There are two aspects to be considered: content and process, or knowledge and pedagogy.

Parent-teachers are in a different position from that of schoolteachers, in that the latter have to address their efforts to an entire classful of students at a time, whereas the former can adapt their approach to each of their children separately.

Without the logistical means to customize their output to each individual child, schoolteachers have no alternative but to adopt a set methodology and a set curriculum. The best of them will try to find ways to give little individual boosts, here and there, to those students falling behind, but in the final analysis, it’s the law of the average that rules, and stragglers will at times get left by the wayside.

As far as pedagogy goes, parents can tailor their approach to the unique requirements and style of each multidimensional child — and to do so is to celebrate that child’s being in a way that school can never replicate, because it engages a deeper love than that which a teacher might have for a child. Parents can experiment until a method "clicks." They aren’t without resources: they can use the same creativity for presenting academic subjects as that which they’ve needed for any of the teaching tasks they’ve had to accomplish at earlier stages. They also have a variety of options concerning where and how to get outside advice or information: books, other people with experience, etc.

The same goes for knowledge: the information and skills specific to academic subjects aren’t beyond the reach of most parents, at least not for the elementary school age at which children are still formatively vulnerable. Enough literacy to look up what you don’t know, is all that’s needed to keep apace with where your child’s curiosity leads them, or with where you’d like to guide them. Whatever is beyond your understanding or skill ( be it high school physics or playing the violin) can be delegated to a trusted person if you know them to be aligned enough with your pedagogical beliefs that you won’t need to engage in damage control each time the child meets with them.

If the first side of the coin is that reasonably competent and caring parents are those who

  • have the responsibility of,
  • are in the best position to provide, and
  • are entitled to enjoy,

their child’s "Education" and therefore education, then the flip side of the coin is that anyone else is not in the best position and, even when given delegated responsibilities for the child by virtue of being the babysitter or teacher, doesn’t have the final, moral responsibility that a parent does; for, in the final analysis, the overall responsibility remains with the parents, and if they are to delegate, then they must still do so responsibly.

This is the crux of the matter:

Because no dimension of being can be isolated from the others, it’s not possible to delegate the care of a particular dimension without also handing over the power to impact all the others.

And because childhood is a particularly formative stage of life, it matters who spends time with the child, and what the nature of the interaction is. You don’t, for instance, leave a child with a babysitter whose behaviours and values are unknown.

Like babysitters, schoolteachers have multidimensional beings in their care, not just a mental compartment that can be filled with academic learning independently of the child’s physical, emotional and spiritual learning.

Like babysitters, schoolteachers should therefore be people whose behaviours and values are known and approved by those in whose charge children are placed by nature and by law – namely, the parents.

In the current public school system, parents aren’t given the choice of who will teach their children. Children are assigned to a school geographically, to a curriculum by age, and to a teacher according to which one is filling that position.

Leaving your child in a school for six hours at a time, day after day, requires that you entrust your child’s total development
– not just academic achievement –

  • to a teacher who is most likely a stranger,
  • to a peer-intensive environment, and
  • to a system which, by its very structure, expresses certain embedded messages and values.

If you are aware of what those messages and values are, and
you agree with them;
if you believe that a peer-intensive environment
is good for your child;
and if you trust that any stranger employed as a teacher will, by that very fact,
be in alignment with your own notions of how a child’s unfolding is best nurtured,
then consenting to send your child to public school is consistent with the fulfilment of your parental responsibilities.

If, however, you disagree with the school system’s ways of dealing with embedded issues of anonymity, herding, competitiveness, segregation by age, imposed subjects, imposed schedules, etc;
if you are concerned about the kind of social conditioning your child is likely to receive in a peer-intensive environment;
if you want to retain the right to choose the person in whose charge you leave your child,
then it behoves you to find an alternative to public schooling, however inconvenient or unusual that solution might be.

Some will find an acceptable alternative in a private school, as they often have smaller classes and distinct philosophies and pedagogies with which parental values may align.

Others may decide that the best environment in which to

  • retain the family’s values,
  • learn at one’s own pace and in one’s own learning style,
  • honour all the dimensions of one’s being as they intertwine,

is the same environment in which infancy’s unfolding was lovingly guided, and in which parents are dispensers of love, care, and teaching:

the nurturing environment of


-© Marian Buchanan