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Teaching Your Kids: Learning by Being in the Moment

A guy named Peter learned a lifelong lesson about being in the moment in arguably one of the most beautiful places on earth—Rocky Mountain National Park, outside Boulder, Colorado. Perhaps not too surprising a place to learn a lesson about being in the moment. But the way he learned the lesson was far less expected: he forgot his camera.

He was visiting the park the summer before his senior year of high school as part of a two-week church trip. On one of those days, their agenda was a full-day hike to Bear Lake, one of the most popular locations in the park. They left their campsite first thing in the morning and wouldn't return until 4 p.m. About an hour into the hike, Peter realized he'd left his camera in the tent. And this was before the days of digital and cell phone cameras. So, it wasn't like he could just have someone email him a copy of their pictures. He said, "I was crushed." Of all the days to forget his camera, he had to pick the day of the hike to Bear Lake?

Well, when they arrived at the lake, all the other kids started madly taking pictures of the amazing views. All Peter could do was watch. He simply wasn't going to have pictures that day. So, he decided to try something else, something amazing as it turned out.

He sat down, faced out across the lake to the stunning mountain peaks on the opposite side, and just stared. One minute, two minutes, three minutes. Just stared. Then he closed his eyes and tried to remember what he was just looking at. He couldn't remember enough detail. So he opened his eyes again. Four minutes, five minutes. Then he closed his eyes again. He did this until he could see in his mind's eye every jagged cliff, every snow-capped peak, the timberline where the trees stop growing, and the barren rock begins, even the shadows of the clouds as they drifted across the side of the mountain.

Thirty years later, Peter still has wonderful memories of that entire two-week trip. And he has hundreds of pictures he can show you if you have time for him to dig them out of a closet somewhere. But there's only one scene—one amazingly beautiful scene—he can describe to you in breathtaking detail. And it's Bear Lake. The only place in Rocky Mountain National Park he doesn't have a single picture of.

So, to truly appreciate something, especially something of beauty, requires the one thing we seem to have less and less of these days: focused attention. In a typical vacation, we're so rushed to snap photos of every possible thing of interest that we fail to actually take an interest in the things we've rushed to see. What Peter learned through that experience is the value of truly being in the moment. Stop. Truly see what you came to see. If you do it right, you won't need pictures anyway.

And the same thing applies to just about anything else you want to learn. Share this story with your child and talk about what are the most important things for them to learn this week. Then help them figure out a way to spend more focused time on it than they typically would, like Peter did, except on purpose. Find a way to help them "forget their camera" for a moment. Instead of downloading the teacher's notes, write them out by hand. Instead of skimming the Cliff's Notes, read the whole book. Instead of Googling the answer, figure it out themselves. Help them think of ways to generate more focused attention to their most important tasks.

Here are some questions to get you started.

  1. Why is it that many people spend more time taking pictures of what they're doing than actually doing what they're doing? Are you one of them?

  2. Do you have memories of anyone scene as vivid as Peter's memory of Bear Lake? What is it? And why do you think you remember it so well?

  3. Can you think of a situation where it's better to just glance around to see a lot of things poorly instead of seeing a few things really well?

Okay, in the next lesson. We'll talk about how to help your child learn better by helping them experience the joy of discovery.

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Written by

Paul Andrew Smith