How to Help Your Kids Learn – Learning With Children – Men's Health

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“It’s not all easy—but sometimes that’s the point.”

“CAN WE EAT this one?” my four-year-old daughter, Alicia, asks.
We’re on one of our Thursday adventures. This time we’re searching the nearby woods for edible mushrooms, an activity that’s as new to me as it is to her. She’s pointing at a bright-red cap covered with white dots—your classic Super Mario shroom.
I pull out my handy mushroom-identification app, which notes that Amanita muscaria, while edible if prepared properly, is also a known hallucinogen. I have a firm “tell them the truth and be as precise as possible” philosophy and explain what the app says, and that I don’t think our Thursday adventures are ready to get quite that adventurous yet.
We leave the mushroom behind and our conversation turns to (of all things) the nature of reality. Our day ends with her standing on her head asking, “Am I upside down, or is the whole world upside down?” before we dig into some pasta we cooked with the gigantic (and completely non-psychoactive) porcini she found.
Watching your kids learn new skills—physical, mental, emotional—is extraordinarily rewarding. But in the four and three-quarters years since my daughter was born, I’ve experienced more personal growth than I have at any other point in my life.
Some of these skills I’ve always had an interest in but never had the motivation or bandwidth to pick up. Like mushroom hunting. I’ve also always been interested in bird watching, a hobby that my wife, Adri, has described as “the least sexy thing you can do.” (Thankfully, having a kid to do it with precludes me from needing to make any attempts at sexiness.) And there’s so much more.
After a summer’s worth of dodging flailing hooks and fixing tangled lines, my daughter is self—sufficient enough that I can get a few casts of my own in between untangling sessions.
After a winter of pizza-ing down the bunny slope each week, she’s french-frying her way down blues and even stumbled down her first black. Last winter, I got out on the mountain more times than I had in the past 15 years combined, and now I’ve got a partner for life (or at least until she’s too cool for me).
It’s not all easy—but sometimes that’s the point. Alicia practices violin every day, and although she enjoys it, even 15 minutes of practice can frustrate her. The trick, I’ve found, is to let her watch me try to get better at something, too. I started taking piano lessons at 41 years old with the idea that if she sees me struggling as I practice and then improve, she’ll understand that things don’t come easily, even for grown-ups (including dads).
I know there’s going to be a time when I’ll end up on the sideline cheering her on as she finds her own passions. I’m okay with this, and I’m hoping that by then she’ll carry the joy of practice and knowledge for their own sake through life.
My mother was visiting us a few months ago. As Alicia talked to her while walking through the woods, my mom asked, “Alicia, how do you know so many things?” My daughter said, “Because I’ve been practicing knowing things for four years.”
A version of this article originally appeared in the April 2022 issue of Men’s Health.