Learning by doing or doing after learning…


One question which has always bugged me regarding parenting is ‘how much is enough?’ At what stage, or at what juncture do parents need to stop ‘parenting’ their children and let them figure out things for themselves.

Being a father of a 23 month old girl, this is one question which I ask myself whenever I intervene in anything she is doing, be it something as simple as when she is having a ‘messy meal’ or when she throws a small tantrum insisting upon doing something which is not appropriate like walking on the streets without holding anybody’s hand. At these points I stop, pause for a moment and think, is this where I draw the line and lay down the rules, or do I still give her some leeway and let her figure things out on her own?

While there is a chain of thought which advocates that children learn by doing, ie, just put the food on a plate and let them eat on their own, this is probably the best way they will learn to eat, the fact remains that this particular technique might not work really well in many cases. Take for example, taking the child for a walk. In today’s day and age, there are no exclusive walking tracks where people are sensitive enough to children and elders walking. Even during walks, people are in a tearing hurry and walk as if they are there to break the walking world record. What’s even worse is that most people are listening to music or peering at their mobile phone screens even while walking. This automatically puts little toddlers in danger of coming in the path of such ‘busy walkers’ and they end up falling, scraping their knees, elbows, etc.

There is this other chain of thought which advocates parents teaching their children things until they develop a certain degree of proficiency in the same, and then letting the children do that particular task on their own. For example, one parent initiates the child to holding a pencil and start doodling on a piece of paper. For the first few days, the parent sits with the child and ensures that the doodling happens within only the paper and does not extend to the floors, walls or other surfaces. Then gradually the child learns that the pencil is to be used only on the paper and nowhere else, which means that now the parent can be rest assured that no doodling disasters will occur.

I personally am neither a proponent nor a critic of either of these approaches, as I have found that both these approaches work well in different occasions. While the ‘learn by yourself’ approach works well where the dangers involved are less (doodling, coloring, writing, etc), the ‘guided approach’ works well where the dangers involved are a little more (walking on the street, playing in the kitchen, etc).

However, my question still remains where is it that I draw the line? What are the occasions on which I let R learn things on her own, and when do I intervene and teach her the ‘right’ way to do things? I guess there is no one right or wrong answer to this question and has to be determined on a case to case basis. I would really love to hear how the other parents who are reading this grapple with this question and what their suggestions are.


This post has previously been published on the Parentous.com website where I have recently joined as a regular contributor.

2 thoughts on “Learning by doing or doing after learning…

  1. Great points raised, Jairam. Maybe since the 1st 2-3 years are the formative years for children, spoon feeding them in everything is very important. Once walking, eating, talking, etc. become a habit in the early years, it’s difficult to improve them if they’re faulty. Hence, IMHO, it’s best to pay close attention to helping kids formulate their habits in the early years, and then letting them figure things out on their own from the age of 4. That, however, doesn’t mean I advocate micro management. Kids even as old as 2 years should be given freedom related to certain non-critical things… What do you think?

    • @Vishal, first up, welcome the blog and thanks for sharing your thoughts on the post.

      Completely agree with you on what you say. In fact my wife and me do the same with our two year old right now. We let her do most things her way with minimal guidance in terms of how it needs to be done. And yes, we do pay attention to the fact that she doesn’t develop any unnecessary habits.

      Has worked well so far, let’s see how it continues 🙂

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