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Creating teachable moments

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Parents play a big role in continuing a child’s learning journey outside of the classroom. These opportunities for learning are often called teachable moments. And they can happen anywhere from the grocery store to even at the park.

Listen as Julian explains what teachable moments are. And how they help kids build important life skills. Then get tips on how to create these moments at home.

Episode transcript

Julian: From kitchen conversations to outdoor activities, parents play a huge role in shaping their child's learning journey outside of the classroom. These teachable moments foster academic growth and cultivate important life skills. In this episode, I'm going to show you how to create teachable moments for three specific things: Budgeting, conflict resolution, and time management. Welcome to "The Opportunity Gap."

Today, we're diving into how parents and parenting adults can create teachable moments for children with learning and thinking differences. I want you all to remember that phrase "teachable moments." So, you may be wondering, Julian, what is a teachable moment? I'm glad you asked. Teachable moments are unexpected opportunities for learning that come up in everyday situations. And we have a decision to make in the moment. Are we going to just let that moment slide by? Are we going to use that to share something important with our children?

Those are those moments when you make that micro decision to say, "You know what? This is a moment where I need to do some teaching." And it happens a lot more than you think.

They can happen in the grocery store. They can happen at the park. They can happen when you're driving in the car, when you're on the subway. They can happen when you're watching a movie together. They can happen at any moment, anywhere, anytime. And it's these valuable moments where we provide our kids with an opportunity to build these instrumental problem solving skills that they need to be successful in life.

It's also a great time to break in some of those critical thinking skills, too. In this episode, it's just me, but I'm going to show you how to create some of these teachable moments for three specific areas. We're going to talk about budgeting. We're going to talk about conflict resolution. And we're going to talk about time management. All right, let's go.

Let's start with budgeting. That's right. Money, finances. I think all of us, we were a little worried about finances. And as we know, it's never too early to start talking about money. It's never too early to start talking about budgeting. And so, there's so many opportunities, whether you're talking about a kindergarten child or whether you're talking about that 12th grader that's going out into the world soon, how are they managing their financial decisions?

And so, thinking specifically about these teachable moments, let me break down one example that every single one of us can use. So, let's imagine that you're going food shopping. Everybody eats. Everybody needs to get food in their household. Now, some of us are fancy. We use Instacart, or we get Amazon Fresh or things that are delivered to our homes. But for those of us that still go old school and go into the supermarket, this is a great opportunity to bring your child with you.

Now, I don't know about you, but I remember my mom used to drag us to Pathmark and we'd go through Pathmark with her. And no matter what, once a week we are all going into the store and we're walking with her to do our shopping. I do the same thing with my kids. I do the shopping in my household, and I always talk to them about how we create a budget. So, here's what we do.

Instead of just dragging them along into the grocery store, we do a little preparation beforehand. We sit down and my two children and I go through the entire house, and we look at all of the items that we need in the house. Do we need cookies for a treat? Do we need fruit? Do we need vegetables? Do we need milk? Do we need yogurt? What are the things that are essentials? And we make our list. And then once we make our list, then we get into the car and we drive.

And I go shopping at a place called ALDIs. ALDIs is a great budget place to go shopping to begin with. But anyway, we go to ALDIs and we take our list with us and I give the list to my daughter and she checks off the things that we need to get. And my son, he goes around and gets the materials that we need, so he'll go off on a mission to say, "All right, you're going to go and get the milk, or you're going to go and get the pretzels." And here's where the teachable moment comes into play.

As you know, many supermarkets have so many different options. And so, the key to this work is that there's a certain amount of money that we're going to spend, and we have to make sure that we fall under that amount of money. And so, there are certain things that are definite needs that we have to get. So, on our list there are the things that we have to get versus the things we might want to get. And I make sure that the kids understand that each of them gets two things that they want, but everything else has to get what we need first.

So, once we get all the things we need, they go off and get their things, they get everything that we need, each of them gets two things that they want, and they can only get those once we've gotten everything we've needed, and it falls under the amount of money we're supposed to spend.

So, for example, my son, he loves Oreos. He is an Oreo fanatic. There's churros flavored Oreos, there's mint flavored Oreos, there's double stuffed Oreos, and sometimes the price fluctuates. So, I tell him, "You can't get Oreos if it doesn't fall under the price that we have to keep it under." And so he has to make the calculation "If I have ten dollars left, do I have enough to get Oreos? And the other thing I might want to get." Because if it doesn't fall under that, then it's not happening.

And so, the idea of making sure that they're just not, fully involved with it, but they're actually doing the financial budgeting part, they're making the monetary calculation, that's the teachable moment. And so, as you're doing this, you're teaching our kids really about the idea of budgeting, how to make sound financial decisions.

Now, something I'm really proud of is my daughter, she loves to crochet. And we were able to teach her how to make an entire store based on her crocheting products. And so we gave her $100 and we said, "Whatever you can make in $100, that's what we're going to use for supplies." And so, we talked about the idea of making sure she builds in the cost of supplies, to make everything she could make.

And so, we went to Michael's to buy all the crocheting and the knitting material she needed, and she made all these little knickknack things, like she made headbands and she made berets, and she made all these different types of materials. And we went to an art show, and she got to actually set up a table with all the things she made. And we allowed her to set the prices for each of the things that she created. And then as she was selling these things, this girl made $140, $140.

So, at first, she was like, "Dad, this is great. I made a lot of money," but then I had to make sure she understood. "Make sure you subtract the amount that we spent. And so, what is your profit? Is $40. Now how are you going to spend that $40?" And she immediately decided "I'm going to use that $40 to buy more supplies so I can make more things."

And so, we talked about this idea of you have choices as to how you can use needs versus how you can go for once. And I think it's really important as educators, as parents, we always want to focus on the idea of needs versus wants. Whether it's food shopping, or whether it's making beautiful crocheted items, make sure that you're using teachable moments in everything you do related to budgeting.

All right. Here's another one. Number two. Conflict resolution. We all are in situations where conflict arises. All of us know that. You know, as parents, sometimes we get a little frustrated. We know that sometimes things pop off and we get a little bit upset. Maybe they didn't clean their room. Maybe they started talking back. Maybe they grabbed the phone when they were supposed to. Maybe they didn't put the phone away when we told them to. Who knows what it is.

And it's one of those days where you just aren't having it. You're just up to here with it. You're like, "You know what? If you say one more thing, I'm going to go up." But then you catch yourself. And as parents, we know we get to that point where we get so frustrated and our voice starts to raise, our heart rate starts to go faster. Our eyes are getting to that parent look and we know we're about to snap. That's the teachable moment right there. That's the point where you can use your time to teach your child about conflict resolution.

And so, here's what I suggest. Imagine you're in that moment and you're getting to that point. And then you check yourself. You can stop yourself right there. Take a deep breath. "Dad's taking a deep breath right now. Dad's really frustrated and dad needs to calm down. I'm going to take a 10 seconds to get myself together before we talk."

In that moment when you are about to snap and your child sees that you're using the strategy of calming yourself down, whether it's taking a deep breath, whether it's counting to ten. In my household, we use the phrase taking a hot cocoa breath. "OK. Now let's get back to what we need to say." Those strategies of modeling to your child what you do when you're frustrated. It's a teachable moment.

Once you've taken your breath. Sit down with your child. Explain to them why you're so frustrated. "You know what? It got Dad really frustrated when you still hadn't cleaned your room, and the toys were still on the ground. And I got really upset, but I was able to calm myself down. Can you tell me how it made you feel? Can you tell me why cleaning sometimes is a little difficult for you?"

When you tell them how you're feeling, and then you invite them to share how they're feeling, it opens up a conversation. As opposed to being punitive. As opposed to blaming your child. And it allows them to be a part of the conversation. And so, in this case, as you calm yourself down, you're calming your child's feelings down too. You're modeling self-awareness. You're modeling emotional regulation, and you're modeling effective communication.

And in conflict resolution. It's really important to do all three of those things. And especially for our babies with learning and thinking differences. They need a moment. They need a second. They need something to help them because their feelings might run really hot sometimes. We all understand that. But if Mom or Dad is taking the time to model how they calm themselves down in the moment. Then when they get to a point when they might have a little issue at school, maybe they get into something at recess, they can remember, "Well, Mom and Dad didn't yell. Maybe I can do this too."

Third thing that is a teachable moment. This is my number one favorite. In actuality, I'm really bad at it, but I'm trying to get better. But this is always a teachable moment for our children. Always. The idea of time management and planning. One of the most important things you can do as a parent is to share your way of time management. What is your system for managing all the different things that come up in your life?

So many of us have all these different events happening. We live in a world where phones and tablets and notifications and social media, they're all coming at us constantly. Life isn't simple anymore, at all. And so, when we take the time to really allow our children to learn how to manage all of that, it gives us a chance to really hone in on a specific teachable moment that can change the trajectory of how they manage their lives, because the reality is it's only going to get harder. It's only going to become more and more packed.

And so, here's a couple of suggestions for how you can use these moments, to really show your children how to manage their time and how to plan.

So, again, let me go back to my own kids. My kids are eight and ten years old, and something that we absolutely love to do is explore our city. We live in a large city, Philadelphia, and there's so many really cool things that are going on in the city constantly, that we like to be active. We like to get out there and do things. But we also want our children to learn how to manage their time. And so, one of the things that we've done to practice is we look at the events happening in our neighborhood. And we do it together as a family.

So, my children absolutely love going to the library. Because the library, it's a local library, and there's always different authors coming or there's different events happening at the library, whether it be a book talk or sometimes they have LEGO Club. Sometimes they will have a class related to gaming. Sometimes there's robotics and there's a calendar of events. And so, what we do is we'll pull up the calendar of events together, and we'll pull out the phone, and we'll look at it on the computer, and then we'll compare that calendar to the calendar that we have up in our house.

And instead of my wife and I choosing what we're going to do, we let our kids look at the calendar that's happening at the library and they get to pick. "Which one of these do you guys want to go to? Is there any of these things that you're interested in hitting up? Do you think we should go or not go?" And we let them decide.

And each of them picks one that they really want to go to. So, my son picked a LEGO event happening a couple of weeks from now, and my daughter picked an event that was related to, building, different things with creative materials. I think it was slime. And she picked them and said, "All right, we're going to do these things."

And so, they went up to the calendar and they wrote it on our calendar, and they decided that's what we're going to do for those specific days. So, we said, "OK, cool." So, now we have to figure out, well, how are we going to get there? What time should we leave to get there? What do we have to do to prepare for this trip? And what do we need to lay out for clothing before we go?

So then, when it comes time for us to go, we tell the kids, "You all have to decide, are we going to walk? Are we going to take the train? Are we going to drive? What time do we need to leave? What kind of clothing do you think we should wear for this? Are we going to eat our lunch or dinner before we go? Or should we bring a snack with us?"

And so, we push them to figure out all the preparation it takes to go to this specific event. And I know it seems really simple, and I know that it seems like it's not that big of a thing or it's not that impactful. But let me tell you, from experience, every single time you have your child involved in the planning process, it's a teachable moment.

Whether it's picking out the snacks they're going to bring for the trip or going on, whether it's having them pick out the shoes they might have to wear for an upcoming hike, or if they're going to the park or if they're going downtown. And let me tell you, my daughter is very much into what shoes she's wearing. Sometimes I open up a can of worms that I shouldn't open, but it's still a teachable moment.

The idea of managing and preparation. It's incredibly important. For those of us that have older children, a teachable moment is opening up your Google Calendar and showing your children how to put events on a Google Calendar. It's making sure that they have somewhere to capture things that they want to do in the future.

It's going on to the different websites that show events, and allowing them to plan out what those events might be that they're interested in going to. It's allowing them to look at the train schedule and deciding "How much time will it take for us to get from point A to point B? Which trains we have to take to get to there?" If you are New Yorkers listening to this, "Are we taking the A train? Are we taking the 1 train? Are we transferring? Which station do we need to go to? How are we going to map out how we get to our next destination?" Those are all teachable moments. And instead of doing it for them, let your children have a chance to be involved in it too.

I can't say enough; teachable moments are incredibly important. They make learning relevant. They encourage our kids to ask questions and explore new ideas, and they spark excitement and curiosity. They make learning an enjoyable adventure. So, the next time you're inside of ALDIs, the next time you're getting really, really frustrated with your child's messy room or you're thinking about going to that local concert, think of those ways that you can create a teachable moment. That's right. You got it. Those words. Teachable moments. Say it with me. Teachable moment.

Thank you all so much for tuning in. Be sure to check out all the resources that we share in the show notes. Until next time. Talk to you later OG family. "The Opportunity Gap" signing out.

Thanks so much for listening today. We love hearing from our listeners. So if you have any thoughts about today's episode, you can email us at And be sure to check out the show notes for links and resources to anything we mentioned in the episode.

This show is brought to you by Understood is a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering people with learning and thinking differences, like ADHD and dyslexia. Learn more at

"The Opportunity Gap" is produced by Tara Drinks and edited by Daniella Tello-Garzon. Our theme music was written by Justin D. Wright, who also mixes the show. Ilana Millner is our supervising producer, Briana Berry is our production director, Neil Drumming is our editorial director. Our executive directors are Laura Key Scott Cocchiere, and Seth Melnick. Thanks again for listening.


  • Julian Saavedra, MA

    is a school administrator who has spent 15 years teaching in urban settings, focusing on social-emotional awareness, cultural and ethnic diversity, and experiential learning.

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