What is learning?

Above: images of spontaneous learning which takes place around here on a daily basis.

Some time ago, I was really pleased to come across this article, which speaks about a new research showing that early academic achievements aren’t necessarily beneficial to a child’s learning process in the long run. Actually, the same principle has been discussed 25 years ago in the excellent book Better Late Than Early.

Not long ago, we were at a social gathering with another family. Their children, aged 5 and 3, dazzled us all with a display of their mathematical and foreign language skills. Turns out that such things are now taught in private preschools. To me, however, it sounded more like parroting than actual learning, encouraged for the parents’ bragging rights rather than for the children themselves.

Of course it’s possible to argue that each child learns at a different pace, and we’ve all heard of prodigies who have learned to play the piano at the age of 3, wrote advanced poetry by the age of 5, etc. However, here we are talking about a roomful of 3-year-olds who are all sat down in a circle and drilled until they memorize counting until 30, or the names of the days in the week in English (we’re talking about children whose mother tongue is Hebrew, of course).

Naturally the daily drill is sugar-coated by fun, games, colorful flashcards and lots of positive reinforcement (clap hands! Clap hands! What clever little children!). However, I believe putting an emphasis on this kind of achievement hinders the child-led learning, free thinking and free play which are so important for young children’s physical and mental development. Furthermore, the children are being robbed of the delight of learning for its own sake, of the thrill of discovery. They do what they do for rewards, attention, peer competition or in order to please their parents and teachers.

Some will say that these are musings of a lazy parent who is unwilling to teach her children anything. I disagree. Encouraging children to memorize facts and rewarding them for it with sweets or stickers is easier than promoting their independent efforts to explore what interests them, let alone finding time to answer their many questions about life and the world we live in.
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4 thoughts on “What is learning?

  1. You know the old saying about leading a horse to water: your efforts should not be directed to making it drink, but to making it thirsty.

    It might take 3 weeks to train a 3 year old to “read” flash cards” but an untrained 6 yr old will pick it up in 3 minutes. Even if a 3 y/o can be taught to read War and Peace, can they intelligently analyze and discuss it with you?

    I agree with you. Let kids be kids. Those first few yrs may be the only Garden of Eden they’ll ever get know.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes! And I like to be a kid myself with my kids. Someone who genuinely enjoys stretching on my back in the grass and watching the clouds, or playing a game of ball.

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  2. I agree. You are right too in that allowing your children to learn that way is not as easy as it sounds. They get messy. They make messes. My children spend their time mostly outdoors, weather permitting. In winter, we do formal schoolwork inside. We read aloud every day all year. Outside,they play in mud. They play with water. They play with just about anything they can lay hands on in our yard, which is large. They play with chickens and ducks and cows and bugs. They come indoors and draw, bringing their drawings to me to tell me stories about what they drew. They are curious, interested, creative and inventive. I crave order and cleanliness, so I need to often remind myself to see the good and look beyond the mess and clutter. My kids don’t even really know what to do with your typical classroom educated/television watching/smart device using child in America today. They don’t even know how to interact with each other.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your kids sound very much like mine đŸ™‚ And it’s a kind of childhood I was reading about in books, and secretly dreaming of, as a kid myself.

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