A Valid Answer We Should Teach Our Kids More Often

EEME makes monthly hands-on project kits and online lessons to teach kids electronics.

Due to COVID-19, my 2nd grade son has started remote schooling-at-home. I have predominantly taken the role of watching over his day-to-day education and am learning a lot on how to be a more effective home educator.

As a break from writing about electronics, STEM, and EEME, I thought I'd share some of the learning tactics I'm employing while working with my son.

Valid Answer We Should Explicitly Teach

As the primary parent watching over my son's day-to-day 2nd grade schooling-at-home, I've inevitably been tasked with overseeing and double checking his assignments.

I noticed that mistakes fall under 2 categories:

  1. Careless mistakes.
  2. Mistakes from genuinely not knowing how to do whatever was assigned.

For (1), I would try to coach him on creating a process to hone his attention such as making better instructions, among other tactics which I hope to write about in the future.

Addressing mistakes from (2) should be straight forward. My son didn't know how to tackle this particular question or assignment. His bucket of knowledge for this assignment was empty or close to empty. So I should teach him how to do it, show him what it means, ie fill his bucket of knowledge, then move on... right?

That would be the case if I only intend to fill his buckets of knowledge. But I think we can do better as parents and educators and in the process help them become more self-aware and confident.

Awareness to know when your bucket is empty

My son once had a math problem that involved carry-over subtraction: 56 - 28. His answer was wrong. When I asked him to try again, he gave another seemingly random answer. Upon asking him how he came up with the answer, he explained a convoluted process that clearly was not correct. Turns out he actually didn't remember how to subtract with carry-overs.

On one hand, I applaud him for trying. But in this particular case, when working collaboratively with me or any other coach or educator, when he clearly doesn't know how to do something, I'd prefer him to be self-aware of the fact that he doesn't know, and just straight up ask for help rather than continuously guess.

But achieving self-awareness is challenging, even for adults. In addition to helping my son fill his buckets of knowledge, how can I better coach him to be more self-aware to know when his own bucket is empty and to seek help?

The universally valid answer we should explicitly teach

When working together on his lessons, I started to notice a pattern in the tone of how my son answers questions.

For example, for the math problem above, I'd ask him to try a simpler variation: 26 - 2. Then I'd crank up the difficulty, which will involve carry over: 26 - 8. He'll answer both questions. The first answer he'll get right - 24. The second answer will be wrong - 22.

When I ask him to state his answer out loud, there is a distinct difference in tone for the 2 answers. He states the first answer very definitively as a statement - "24!". But the second answer will be stated to sound like a question - "22??".

I started noticing this uncertain tone in his answers for questions he didn't know the answer to, across various subject matters - grammar, vocab, history, math, art, etc.. The question-like tone in his answers seemed like a good signal for when he doesn't know something.

So I started to more deliberately address the tone of his answers when working collaboratively together on a lesson or assignment. Upon answering a question, I would ask my son "are you telling me the answer, or are your asking me the answer"? If he's asking me, ie stating the answer in a question-like tone, I would have him retract his answer and re-state to me "I don't know, I don't understand, can you please explain it to me again".

Interesting enough, when I think back to my own childhood, the answer "I don't know" is never taught explicitly to be a valid answer. I don't believe it was ever explicitly taught to my son either. Yet, in my young adult school life and in my career, I can recall a large number of times I wish I had the awareness or confidence to just say "I don't know" so I can get clarification immediately. I don't want my kids to suffer the same shortcomings. So now I encourage the both of my kids to state confidently, "I don't know" or "I don't understand, can you please explain it to me again" during our learning sessions or even casual conversations together.

To help my son be more self-aware of when he doesn't know, I now ask my him to state his answers out-loud or in his head, and then be aware of the tone of his answer - "are you asking, or stating the answer". If he thinks he is "asking the answer", then I encourage him to just state "I don't know, please explain it to me".


My son tends to rush into answers and, even if he is not prepared to take them on, very rarely will shy away from challenges. I don't want him to lose his confidence in "taking a stab" at a problem. But I also want him to become more self-aware of when he doesn't know something and to be confident in asking for help. It's my job and a bit of artistry to find the right balance.

I understand all kids are built differently. How a parent balances out encouraging their kid to "give it a try" versus asking for help varies from kid to kid. Despite being related to her brother, this balance will be different even for my 4 year old daughter. On the other hand, this exercise works for all cases when the kid (or even an adult) straight up guesses.

But differing personalities aside, we should all do our best to coach our kids to be self-aware of when they don't know something, and to confidently state "I don't know, I don't understand" and ask for help. Through self-awareness and confidence, we better set them up to be self-driven life-long learners and forever curious.

If you have any strategies or tactics of your own, please reach out and share them by visiting EEME's Facebook or EEME's Instagram page or emailing me directly - dad AT eeme DOT co (not com!).

If you are looking for hands-on electronics kits for your 7-12 year old kid, we are still shipping during this COVID-19 fiasco. Each kit is paired with its own online curriculum to teach your family how to build the circuit as well as how the circuit works.

You can learn with EEME in three ways:

  1. Sign up for FREE, to learn with our free online lessons

  2. Subscribe to our monthly kits - each month we send you a new project.

  3. Make a one-time purchase of our 9 project set - which is effectively the first 9 month's of projects.

Thanks so much, stay safe, and happy building!!
Jack "EEME Dad"

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