• Dave Burrows

Tips from a ski instructor on homeschooling

What ski instructors know about teaching children and how it can benefit you when homeschooling your children.

1.  KISS - Keep It Simple Stupid!

We find that kids respond really well to simple, clear instruction.  In our experience, you only have one, maybe two sentences at the most to try to teach a child something, otherwise you run the risk of losing their attention.  In ski sessions, I will try to keep the language that I use simple and the instructions really clear and precise.  

'In these moguls, this time I want to see if you can ski over the top over every bump'

Note that in this example, I am just asking the child to do one simple thing and I am not explaining the mechanics of it.

2.  Chaining - Putting it together

If I put together enough (but not too many) of these little simple tasks over say, a 3 hour session, I can see quite a performance difference over that time.  Not all of the tasks will be simple outcome tasks like the one above, some of them may be input focussed, for example;

'on the top of each mogul there is a little marmot that appears in the snow on the inside.  I want you to see if you can stick the end of your pole on his head'

Now I have a solid pole plant in the top of the bump and a kid taking the up and over mogul line.

3.  Breaking it down and putting it back together again  - task complexity

For some young minds, the act of skiing can seem really complex, so oftentimes, it's necessary to break tasks down into their component parts and then building it back up again into the whole.  This is called whole-part-whole teaching.

Let's go back to our example of the mogul skiing again.  If I throw a kid into a mogul field for the first time and ask him to follow me, she's not going to understand the complexity of the different lines and movements that are needed to cope with this terrain.

However, if, maybe even over the course of a few weeks. I can break that task down and show her the way to ski round lines, up and overs and troughs, as well as absorption turns and where to plant her pole, all in separate sessions, eventually, all of that can be put back together and a good mogul performance can come as a result of having learnt all of those individual things separately.

4.  Learning through fun/play/imagery/anticipation

Children do not learn the same way as adults and it's important to remember that when you ski with them.  I personally try to engage my inner 7 year old when I'm travelling up the ski lift with them, asking them what they are into, what's new and interesting at school, searching for that level or thing that I can engage them on.

When skiing with kids, if there is a jump near the side of the piste, they want to go over it.  If there is something called the magic or secret forest, they want to explore it, if there is a speed trap they want to see how fast they can go.  I have found over the years that setting the scene is one of the most important things that you can do in a ski lesson.  Kids are generally ambitious and want to test the limits of what is possible.

' Today guys, what we are going to do is head to Les Crosets.  We are going to learn lots on the way but I promise you that if we see any jumps, we will do them.  I'd like to ski moguls if we can do some, so you'll be doing that too, same for powder.'

For me, most kids tend on the side of being activists, especially young boys.  This means that they don't have a great deal of time for long and boring explanations of what and how to do something.  Kids might learn more about physics by climbing a tree, more about chemistry by lighting a fire, more about biology by catching a frog.  When kids discover, are involved in or are guided to solutions themselves they retain much more of that information than just being told it.

I am currently at home with my 3 year old, Zoë and if I was just showing her pictures in a book of the spring flowers she would be bored witless but when we are out on our daily hike, she actively stops, strokes and says hello to the different types of flowers we see.

5. Timing - breaks and decompression time.  

In my opinion, the school timetables have it all wrong.  Children are not designed to be cooped up all day in stuffy classrooms, they need movement and air.

Regular breaks from teaching are important and that's why you won't always find me teaching every minute of a 3 hour lesson.  Often, we just ski, for pleasure, just for the fun of it.

Consider a ratio of 20 minutes learning time and then an equivalent or if not longer break time.  You'll find better engagement and more done within those 20 minutes than slogging through hour long sessions.  I taught french to some Chinese and Spanish students a while back and this approach really worked, especially with the underlying option of me cancelling the break if the performance in the learning sessions was poor.  

In ski lessons, I'll often negotiate with my kids and trade freeski time for learning time, working out the ratio of time between us, giving some session ownership to the kids.

These are very strange times and I expect that they will be over sooner rather than later.  Even so, we weren't all expecting to be homeschooling our children and trying to fit in everything around it.  At the very least, we can make it engaging and fun for both parents and kids.


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