most important learning picture


After teaching arts and crafts for more than 20 years, there is one thing I am certain of – the most important learning comes when I stop teaching.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying teachers are unnecessary. It is vital to have someone show us the basic skills, for, without them, we can’t do much of anything.

There comes a point, however, when the teacher should step back and see what the students can discover for themselves.

That is where the most important learning happens.

Years ago I joined a craft group that was focusing on making Christmas ornaments. One class had me produce possibly the most perfect thing I have ever made. It was a ribbon covered foam ball.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? In truth, it wasn’t that hard but there was a definite order to how you had to place the ribbons for it to turn out. Our teacher slowly took us through each step. The little ribbon pieces had been pre-cut for us so all we needed to do was follow her direction to create the perfect decoration. I diligently hang that ornament every year and instead of feeling pride when I look at it, I feel kind of empty.




Sure, it’s pretty near perfect, but nothing about it reminds me that I created it. It taught me an important lesson though. As a teacher, you need to give your students enough rope (or ribbon) to either hang themselves or create their own version of perfect – not your version.

It is a skill that has been much appreciated by my employers when teaching people with disabilities. I encourage them to think independently and try new things.

I always have a lesson plan for my arts and crafts workshops and often have things pre-cut. This saves a lot of time when you are dealing with up to 10 children aged between four and 12. Or a group of 12 or more adults with disabilities.

As we go through the activities the students gain confidence. They start suggesting additions or alterations to the project and I fully encourage this.


most important learning picture


The best time is towards the end of the workshop when I ask them to come up with their own designs. I call this my Wacky challenge.

Some are a little daunted at first. They all manage to be inspired as they walk around the workshop gathering supplies which range from all kinds of recyclables and nature finds, to glitter, colourful pipe cleaners, craft sticks and more.

They all end up creating something wonderful from their own imaginations. These are usually the things they are most proud of.

Not all of their ideas work out at first. Then it’s time to investigate ways to make it work. This is an amazing opportunity to foster divergent thinking and flexibility. It also facilitates independence, problem-solving and resilience skills.


most important learning picture


To steal the words of career educator Ben Johnson, great teachers don’t teach.

They engineer learning experiences that manoeuvre the students into the driver’s seat and then the teachers get out of the way.

Ben Johnson


most important learning picture



Knowing when to step back and allow the most important learning to begin is not a skill for professional teachers alone.

I used the word ‘professional’ as I think we are all teachers to the people around us. And we are all students.

I’m using this technique as a grandparent too. As the Goddesses are getting older there are more disputes among each other or frustration at not being able to do things.

Instead of giving them the answer, I ask them how they think they could fix it. Sometimes I’ll offer a few suggestions and often have an outlandish idea mixed in to help lighten the mood. Little kids can be quite emotional. 🙂

They are so excited when they’ve solved the problem it will be the first thing they tell their parents when they see them, regardless of the other wonderful things we may have done during the day.

This is a good skill for employers too. When a staff member alerts them to a problem, instead of providing a solution, employers can encourage their staff to investigate the possibilities. Could be the employee comes up with a better solution.

By creating a space for independent thinking and problem solving, employers will ultimately have fewer demands made on their time.




The fact is, we are regularly being spoon-fed information. We are told how to live life and even how to break free from all the rules and advice. It makes it hard to remember how to think for ourselves sometimes.

That’s what makes it so important to promote independent thinking, especially in children.

With so much information at the tips of our fingers, we are all at risk of getting lazy brains that are dependent on being told how and when to do things.

How often do you turn to the internet for how-to steps without even attempting to work it out yourself first?

I, for one, am often guilty of this. I seek a teacher to tell or show me the steps, even when I have the basic skills needed to work it out for myself.

Yet, just like the kids, I feel most proud when I engage my problem-solving skills to come up with my own solution.

It may take me several attempts to get it right, but that is where the most important learning comes.

Do you allow yourself time for the most important learning?

Wishing you many learning opportunities and a gleeful week, Tamuria.


  • Tamaria,
    Your article was wonderful and I agree with you on the fact that teachers have to step back and let the children have their opinions and make their own minds up. In the process of children’s mental growth being able to work out decesions is important overall. Art is more than drawing it teaches children so much Thank You Brilliant !!!

  • One of the greatest experience I have had in adult learning, has been with Arscura and our fearless leader, Regine. The key is she offers enough information for us ‘students’ to begin and to know that an open space is being held for all of us to have our own unique experience. She is always there supporting us and offering ‘suggestions’ if we want them. Her years of experience are always evident and given freely. I know that children learn very differently and the method you talk about in this post, is a beautiful way for kids to both learn and also to build trust in themselves and their choices, while flexing their own creative muscle. The learning happens both in the teaching, but also in the times when there is no teaching, just support that is felt and encourages confidence to find your own unique style. Thanks for sharing your experience and your own learnings as a teacher, Tami! Love the quotes in the post too!

    • That’s it exactly, Beverley – offering a space for learning as well as building trust in your own abilities and choices and encouraging confidence to find your own unique style. Regine sounds like an amazing teacher.

  • I remind myself when doing school projects with my son to let him do it his way, that I am the helper, his assistant.
    We did that this year for a tree project. He was the movie director and all, it came out 100 percent with his personality and his classmates loved his presentation.
    Usually, I give him a list and we just follow it but this time I said to myself I don’t care what the end product looks like, that’s his project, not mine. You’re right, teaching is giving others room to be creative and do things their way.

    • It can be tough learning to stand back and let your kids take the reigns, Webly, but absolutely vital for their own growth. Their sense of pride is so much bigger when they have had the freedom to do it themselves.

  • Tamuria,

    I use your ideas often with Grace who is 10 years old. Last weekend I had a few cardboard corners from a package. I pulled together some magazines, colored tape, glue and Styrofoam to cut out for furniture. I had a few ideas, but I put the supplies in front of Grace and she was off with idea after idea! It was amazing. I had to step back and watch her and loved to see the creative juices flowing! You are an inspiration!

    • Candess, I am thrilled to hear you and Grace have fun with some of the ideas I share – such a lovely thing to hear. Thank you. Once you get the kids started, it’s amazing how many wonderful ideas they have of their own.

  • I think teachers and nurses have to have gentle spirits to do what they do. It’s hard to let them do it their way, but that’s when the best things happen.

    • Totally agree, Cathy. I don’t know lots about the nursing profession, except that they are awesome, but I do know school teachers are often hampered by having to keep up with a curriculum – makes it tough to find time to give kids a bit of freedom. As an arts and crafts teacher, I am not stuck by these rules, thankfully.

  • As usual, you’re an excellent storyteller! I’m about to embark on more of a training focus on my business, so I really appreciate your insight and advice. Balance is important, although often I’m unsure if I’m giving too much information. I don’t want to stifle anyone. I’ve had a similar experience as you where I’ve followed someone else’s rules and ended up with my creativity absent from the project. We must be free to express our individuality to some extent.

    • It’s so sad when the creativity is taken away from you by a teacher who doesn’t give you space, Meghan. It can be tricky to find just the right balance, but if you step back, you can see who needs extra support and then offer it up accordingly.

  • The freedom to learn “your way” is such a great gift. I was watching a tv show the other day with this old timey school teacher who focused on rote memorization and drills – nothing creative or room for learning styles whatsoever. It looked so miserable. It was such a great demonstration of the opposite of what you’re advocating for.

    • That sounds like such old school teaching on the show, Jennifer. At a time when the world needs, more than ever, divergent thinkers and innovators, there is no room for that kind of stifling education.

  • Can I just hug you? I spent all my time in school trying to do it the way the teachers wanted. When I grew up everyone wanted to know how I know so much. The secret is that I didn’t learn it in school.

  • Earlier today, I was listening to Jim Rohn. He shared that educating oneself should be one’s prioriy to be successful. Your blog today is right on.

  • One of my greatest experiences was when I joined a craft club and learned how to do many things on my own. It was such a wonderful and new experience for me and I still have most of my craft work from there. This experience really helped in my creativity especially as we were given instructions and had to do the “work” on our own.

  • Agree, I think it is important to encourage people to find solutions themselves and learn by doing. To give the answers would always be too easy. 😉

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