Important Facts Every Parent Needs to Know about
Children and Learning
By Linda Dobson
Linus Pauling, a poor little boy who grew up to become the recipient of the Nobel prize in chemistry in 1954 and the Nobel peace prize in 1962, wasn’t considered a child genius. “What started him on a long and productive life,” writes Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Professor C.), “was a determination to participate as fully as possible int he life around him.”
Many were surprised that Pauling had the curiosity and enthusiasm of a child even when he was ninety years old. “I just went ahead doing what I liked to do,” he explained when asked his secret to happiness.
Perhaps there were critics’ voices in the background, complaining: “Poor preparation, self-indulgence, total irresponsibility.” But, as Professor C. clearly notes, “the point is that Pauling – and the many others who share his attitude – like to do almost everything, no matter how difficult or trivial…The only thing they definitely don’t like is wasting time. So it is not that their life is objectively better than yours or mine, but that their enthusiasm for it is such that most of what they do ends up providing them with flow experiences.” (Flow, you may recall from recent, previous posts, is the sense of effortless action people feel in moments that stand out as the best in their lives.)
Linus Pauling achieved a learning edge by creating a favorable learning environment for himself. He read the Bible and Darwin’s Origin of Species before his ninth birthday, collected insects and studied entomology at age eleven, and started a mineral collection at age twelve. At age thirteen, he plunged into chemistry.
Your child has the added benefit of you, a caring adult, to help turn her home and community into an exciting learning environment.
What Every Parent Needs to Know about
Children and Learning
The following are selected results from a two-year study conducted by the National Research Council for the U.S. Department of Education.
Young children actively engage in making sense of their world.
Translation: Little ones are predisposed to learning.
Young children have abilities to reason with the knowledge they understand.
Translation: Children lack experience but they are not stupid.
Children are problem solvers and, through curiosity, generate questions and problems; they also seek novel challenges.
Translation: Children are persistent when learning because success and understanding are motivating in their own right.
Children develop knowledge of their own learning capacities (metacognition) very early.
Translation: Children are capable of planning and monitoring their own success and correcting their own errors as they are learning.
Children’s natural capabilities require assistance for learning.
Translation: Caring adults can promote children’s curiosity and persistence by supporting their learning attempts and keeping the complexity and difficulty of information appropriate for success.
A lot of “time on task” doesn’t ensure learning if it’s reading and rereading a text.
Translation: Busywork doesn’t mean learning is happening.
Learning with understanding is more likely to promote transfer (of knowledge) than simply memorizing information from a text or lecture.
Translation: No translation available yet: Because schools still almost exclusively test only students’ memories, the researchers still haven’t had a lot of experience with the advantages of learning with understanding.
Knowledge taught in a single context is less subject to transfer than knowledge acquired through a variety of contexts.
Translation: The process of learning needs to be considered along with content. Children are more likely to hand onto the relevant features or concepts when material is presented in multiple contexts (just as it is in natural contexts). As a bonus, multiple-context presentation also increases understanding of how and when to put knowledge to use, also known as conditions of applicability.
Learning and transfer should not be evaluated by “one-shot” tests of transfer.
Translation: Typical tests are useless. How well children transfer knowledge, an integral step in learning, can’t possibly be perceived until they have an opportunity to learn something new, at which point transfer of old information is evident when they grasp the new information more rapidly. Assessing such evidence of learning is difficult to impossible in a classroom and much easier with your own child.
Adapted from Linda Dobson’s The Ultimate Book of Homeschooling Ideas: 500+ Fun and Creative Learning Activities for Kids Ages 3-12