Earlier this week the television was on as I was getting ready for work. I wasn’t taking much notice as the voices droned on. I was lost in my thoughts of what needed to be done, what I’d be doing at work, which illustrator I’d choose to win my design contest, what I’d write about next, what I needed to get at the shops on the way home from work . . . the usual clutter.
Suddenly the words “they don’t even know they are learning” drew my attention to the television. I paused to see what they were talking about. The image showed children of about three years of age in a child care centre. The children were counting as they walked along stepping stones laid out in a path!
Remarkable? I didn’t think so. Children were happily engaged doing what comes naturally to them: playing, having fun, making sense of the world around them. Pre-school children will naturally join in the fun of counting and learn to do so without structured lessons, with just an attentive adult who encourages it incidentally in daily activities. I have made a few suggestions here and here.
What I think is far more remarkable (worthy of discussion) about those words is the insidiousness of the thinking that underlies them and what that thinking implies.
“They don’t even know they are learning!”
This to me implies that learning is something that:
- children don’t want to do but “we” expect of them,
- children won’t do unless it is “hidden” in sugar-coating,
- must be planned for in a structured program and done to children by adults,
- fits into a narrow band of skills and abilities with easily identifiable criteria that can be measured, and
- is definitely NOT fun!
Perhaps more insidious is the implication that it occurs only in those situations.
Children are born to learn. Their every waking moment is spent figuring out how the world works and what they can do to have their needs met. They are born scientists. They have an innate desire to know. Why one should think it remarkable that children are learning, but they don’t even know they are doing so, boggles my mind.
Anyone who has spent any time with young children know that learning is what they do. They can spend hours absorbed in a particular activity figuring out how something works, how things fit together, what happens when and if …
As soon as an adult intervenes in an attempt to “teach” something that seems appropriate and important to the adult, the child switches off, disengages and chooses another activity.
That’s not to say that the adult shouldn’t intervene to support a child’s learning, but the adult needs to be sensitive to the child’s needs and responses and to not force the situation to one in which the learning may be more important to the adult than the child at that moment, when the child is doing very well on its own, thank you very much.
The article I refer to was broadcast on April 1st. An April Fool’s Day joke? Sadly, not. But if we fail to honour children’s natural curiosity and desire to learn and continue to value only that which can scored on a test, I fear we will develop a multitude of fools.
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post.
Kids’ Work Chicago Daycare: http://www.flickr.com/photos/130419557@N06/16158455502; http://photopin.com; https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/